Indonesia fights vaccines only rich countries can afford

16-03-2007 | |

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said Indonesia will not resume sharing bird flu samples with the World Health Organization (WHO) until a formal agreement is reached assuring its specimens would not be used for commercial purposes.

Indonesia is concerned that large drug companies will use its H5N1 strain, sent to WHO laboratories to confirm human infections, to make vaccines that developing nations won’t be able to afford. Indonesia began withholding samples from human cases of bird flu last month after an Australian company announced that it would produce a commercial bird flu vaccine developed from a strain obtained from Indonesia.
“Sharing bird flu samples can only resume after a new, legally binding agreement is reached. So at least until May,” Supari told reporters after opening a meeting of the WHO South-East Asia Advisory Committee on Health Research.
Jakarta’s move sparked international criticism and concern from health officials. Indonesia, which has the world’s highest human death toll from the H5N1 virus with 64, countered by saying other poor nations also did not want their strains made into patented vaccines that only rich countries could afford.
The government was also criticized for signing an agreement with US drug maker Baxter Healthcare Corp to develop a human bird flu vaccine. Indonesia agreed to provide H5N1 virus samples in exchange for free expertise in vaccine production.