Indonesia: H5N1 sample on its way to WHO

Aug 17, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Indonesian officials said today they have sent a sample from a recent victim of H5N1 influenza to the World Health Organization (WHO), apparently ending the country's prolonged withholding of H5N1 samples.

Triono Soendoro, research and development director for the Indonesian health ministry, said a sample from a woman on Bali who died of avian flu had been sent to the WHO collaborating laboratory in the United States as a precautionary measure, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the WHO' collaborating lab in the United States, is expecting the Indonesian samples, a CDC spokeswoman said today.

"We are expecting them but have not received them yet," Christine Pearson told CIDRAP News. "I can't say for sure that they've been shipped, but we are expecting them."

Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said the government was sending the sample to prove that the virus has not mutated into a form that can spread from person to person, according to a report today from Antara, the national news agency, published in the Jakarta Post.

She also said it was important to prevent panic in Bali, a major tourist destination. A 29-year-old woman from the Jembrana district in northwestern Bali died of avian flu on Aug 12, marking the first case on the island.

Indonesia stopped sending H5N1 samples to the WHO last December as a protest against the cost of commercial vaccines derived from the samples. The action disrupted a 50-year tradition of free international sharing of flu virus samples that has permitted scientists to monitor viral evolution and develop vaccines.

In May, Indonesia sent three H5N1 samples to the WHO in advance of the World Health Assembly. But a WHO official reported on Aug 6 that those samples contained no viable viruses. The official, David Heymann, WHO assistant director for communicable diseases, said Indonesia's withholding of virus specimens was endangering global health.

Last week Soendoro vowed that Inodnesia would not resume sending virus samples until the WHO sets up a system to ensure that developing countries will have access to affordable vaccines derived from the samples they provide.

At the World Health Assembly in May, WHO member countries passed a resolution outlining steps to ensure the fair distribution of vaccines in the event of a flu pandemic. The resolution calls on the WHO to establish an international stockpile of pandemic flu vaccines and to set up a system governing the sharing of virus samples.

At a WHO-sponsored meeting in Singapore early in August, officials from 23 countries drew up proposals concerning virus sharing. Further work on the proposals is expected at a larger meeting scheduled in November, the WHO has said.

See also:

Aug 9 CIDRAP News story "Indonesia to keep withholding virus samples for now"

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