WHO confirms H5N1 cases, still seeks virus-sharing pact

Mar 1, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) today confirmed two cases of H5N1 avian influenza, one in Egypt and one in China, while stating that a disagreement with Indonesia about sharing H5N1 virus samples has not yet been fully resolved.

The Egyptian case involved a 4-year-old girl from Dakahlea governorate whose infection was reported 2 days ago by Egypt's health ministry. The WHO said she became ill on Feb 25 and was admitted to the hospital the next day, where she remains in stable condition. The girl represents Egypt's 23rd case.

She was exposed to sick birds in her home 1 week before she got sick, the WHO said. Her case was confirmed by the Egyptian Central Public Health Laboratory and the US Naval Medical Research Unit 3 (NAMRU 3). Health officials are monitoring the girl's close contacts, who remain healthy.

The Chinese case involves a 44-year-old woman from Fujian province whose H5N1 infection was announced yesterday by Chinese officials. She became ill with fever and pneumonia on Feb 18, was hospitalized Feb 22, and remains in critical condition, the WHO said in its report. The woman's case was confirmed by the Fujian provincial laboratory on Feb 26 and by the national laboratory the next day. Her illness is China's 23rd confirmed case.

The WHO said it learned the woman is a farmer who kept birds in her backyard. Investigators are trying to determine if she was exposed to sick birds, and her close contacts are under medical observation, the agency reported.

Also today, a WHO official denied Indonesia's claims that the two parties had reached a final agreement paving the way for Indonesia to resume sharing H5N1 samples with the WHO, according to Associated Press (AP) reports.

In early February, Indonesia announced it would stop sharing H5N1 samples with the WHO because the government believes it is unfair for foreign countries to use the samples to develop vaccines that poor nations can't afford. The country also signed a memorandum of understanding with US vaccine producer Baxter International that laid the groundwork for future collaborations or supply agreements.

Unrestricted sharing of avian flu virus samples is vital to the research community for developing pandemic vaccines and monitoring the virus's evolution and global spread.

Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari met on Feb 16 with David Heymann, WHO's acting director-general for communicable diseases, to discuss virus sharing. Afterward, the two parties announced that Indonesia would resume sharing its H5N1 samples while the WHO would work to ensure that developing countries would have access to pandemic vaccines based on viruses they supply.

Today the AP reported that Supari said she spoke with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who promised by telephone that Indonesia's H5N1 virus strains wouldn't be used for commercial purposes. Supari told reporters she was expecting a letter or guarantee from the WHO within the next few days, after which Indonesia would resume sending its samples to the WHO, the AP report said.

However, WHO spokesman Dick Thompson told the AP that a deal between the two parties has not been finalized. "This letter is still under development," Thompson said. "Her (Supari's) characterization of a guarantee is not correct."

See also:

Mar 1 WHO statement on Egypt case

Mar 1 WHO statement on China case

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