The System IS the Sickness

Well, it appears that Indonesia is wondering why it should continue it’s efforts obtaining, identifying, processing and purifying bird flu samples, if WHO is going to give them to just a few Western big pharmaceutical concerns, so those concerns can in turn patent the resulting vaccines, and later extract monopoly prices, and in the process making the resulting vaccines too expensive for Indonesia to afford. They want, apparently, a little equity.

First, the coverage from Fox News, which waits all the way until the second word of the headline before they start in with their bias. However, they let one great quote get by:

Indonesia Finally Gives Bird Flu Samples to WHO
Tuesday , March 27, 2007

JAKARTA, Indonesia —

Indonesia will resume sending bird flu virus specimens to the World Health Organization immediately, the health minister said Tuesday, ending a four-month standoff health officials feared could potentially put the entire world at risk.Siti Fadiliah Supari — whose nation has been hardest hit by bird flu, with 66 human deaths — had earlier refused to share virus samples, saying she wanted a guarantee they would not be used to develop expensive commercial vaccines.

International scientists argued she was making it impossible to monitor the Indonesian virus to see if it was mutating into a more dangerous form.

“We will start sending bird flu samples to the World Health Organization immediately,” Supari told reporters after two days of talks with top WHO officials, who assured her the virus would not be misused.

“We trust WHO,” Supari said in an apparent about face. “We trust WHO will not violate our trust, because this is related to the WHO’s credibility.”

But apparently the Fox news censor let one quote slip by which I am very grateful for:

For weeks the health minister has been demanding that the global body change its 50-year-old virus sharing system, in which it collects regular flu samples from all over the world and makes them available to vaccine makers and others.

She argued that — in the event of a pandemic — large pharmaceutical companies would use the virus to make vaccines that were ultimately unaffordable to her people.

“These practices keep developing countries poor and sick,” Supari told el-Shinta radio station hours before Tuesday night’s press conference. “The system is more dangerous than bird flu itself.”

A slightly different slant over at CBS, where they evidently didn’t see the need of adding in ‘finally’:

Indonesia Shares Bird Flu Virus Samples With WHO

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Mar. 28, 2007
(AP)

(AP) Indonesia will resume sending bird flu virus specimens to the World Health Organization immediately, the health minister said Tuesday, ending a four-month standoff health officials feared could potentially put the entire world at risk.

The WHO, in turn, promised not to share virus samples with vaccine companies without permission from countries that provide the specimens. Indonesia had refused to share its samples without a guarantee they would not be used to develop vaccines unaffordable to developing countries.

“We will start sending bird flu samples to the World Health Organization immediately,” Health Minister Siti Fadiliah Supari told reporters after two days of talks with top WHO officials. “We trust WHO will not violate our trust, because this is related to the WHO’s credibility.”

For weeks the health minister had been demanding that the global body change its 50-year-old virus sharing system, in which it collects regular flu samples from all over the world and makes them available to vaccine makers and others.

International scientists had argued she was making it impossible to monitor the Indonesian virus to see if it was mutating into a more dangerous form. Indonesia has been the hardest hit country by bird flu, with 69 human deaths.

A 22-year-old woman died Saturday in Southern Sumatra’s city of Palembang, followed by a 15-year-old boy Sunday in the West Java town of Bandung, and a 40-year-old man early Wednesday in East Java’s capital of Surabaya, said Nyoman Kandun, a senior health ministry official.

But there is a bit of fairness from WHO’s Dick Thompson:

WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said viruses would be monitored as they always have, but companies interested in using samples for vaccine development would have to get permission from the governments that provided them.

“Industrialized countries negotiate regularly for vaccines, and they’ve got stockpiles and vaccines,” said Dr. David Heymann, WHO’s top flu official. “There is no reason developing countries should not do the same thing.”

Indonesia’s decision to withhold the virus had received support from some other developing nations, many of which sent health chiefs to Jakarta for the gathering that wraps up Wednesday.

Heymann earlier suggested several ways to ensure a fairer distribution of vaccines, including creating stockpiles of vaccines for use in poor countries and transferring technology so they can produce their own.

So, at least WHO is acknowledging that Indonesia’s government has a point.

Finally.

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The System IS the Sickness

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