Indonesia president urges fair bird flu virus sharing

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is willing to resume sharing of bird flu virus samples only if nations agree on a fair and equitable framework, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Wednesday.

Indonesia, the nation worst hit by bird flu with 105 human deaths, has held back its virus samples since last August and wants guarantees from richer nations and drugmakers that poor countries get access to affordable vaccines derived from their samples.

“We certainly need to form a partnership with WHO and friendly nations ... we can only proceed if we agree on building and implementing a fair cooperation framework,” Yudhoyono told a news conference after meeting the health minister and ministry officials.

“There is a misunderstanding among foreign nations that Indonesia won’t cooperate, as if Indonesia won’t share (its virus samples) ... but concrete cooperation has to be based on fairness.”

Talks hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) last year in Geneva failed to reach an agreement on a new virus sharing system as Indonesia insisted on a “material transfer agreement” for each virus sample.

The Southeast Asian nation wants a material transfer agreement for each sample of the deadly H5N1 virus sent to foreign labs, that specifies the sample is used only for diagnostic purposes and not for commercial gain.

Sharing samples is vital for tracking the deadly H5N1 virus and developing vaccines against a potential pandemic, according to the WHO.

Jakarta shared just two specimens last year, both from Indonesian women who died in the popular tourist resort of Bali in August, according to the WHO.

Meetings to work out a new virus sharing draft text with key developed and developing nations are scheduled to take place around March and April, the Health Ministry said.

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.

Reporting by Adhityani Arga, Editing by Sugita Katyal