JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia will not share bird flu virus samples unless there is a guarantee developing nations will have control over their use and have access to cheap vaccines, a health ministry spokeswoman said on Monday.
Indonesia, the nation worst hit by bird flu with 91 human deaths, has held back its virus samples since August and wants guarantees from richer nations and drugmakers that poor countries get access to affordable vaccines derived from their samples.
Health officials from around the world failed to reach an agreement on a new virus sharing system at talks hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva last week.
Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari insisted on “equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of viruses” at the meeting.
Sharing samples is deemed vital to see if viruses have mutated, become drug resistant or grown more transmissible.
“Talks hit a deadlock because the health minister was relentless in pushing for a material transfer agreement for each virus sample, but not everyone agreed to that,” ministry spokeswoman Lily Sulistiowati told Reuters.
”We hope that negotiations will continue,“ she said. ”But for her (the Indonesian health minister) one thing remains unnegotiable. We will not send samples overseas without an
Indonesia wants a “material transfer agreement” for each virus sample sent to foreign labs, that specifies the sample is used only for diagnostic purposes and not for commercial gain.
Under this proposal, any commercial use of the virus would require prior consent of the country providing it. Jakarta said would retain the intellectual property rights and allow access to global vaccine stockpiles at an affordable price.
The WHO agreed last May to revamp its 50-year-old system for sharing flu virus samples with researchers and drug firms. It had wanted its 191 member states to adopt an agreement by May but divisions remain.
Experts fear the constantly mutating H5N1 virus could change into a form easily transmissible among humans and sweep the world and kill millions of people.
Sharing samples are vital for tracking the deadly H5N1 virus and developing vaccines against a potential pandemic, according to the WHO.
Jakarta has shared just two specimens this year, both from Indonesian women who died in the popular tourist resort of Bali in August, according to the WHO.
Sixteen companies are at various stages of licensing a vaccine against H5N1. These include GlaxoSmithKline which announced last June it would donate 50 million doses of its “pre-pandemic” bird flu vaccine to WHO’s global stockpile.
The Indonesian government and a unit of the U.S. firm Baxter International Inc have agreed to develop a vaccine. Under the accord, Jakarta has been supplying virus specimens while Baxter is providing technology to develop the vaccine.
Reporting by Adhityani Arga, editing by Sugita Katyal