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Indonesia to Share Bird Flu Samples with WHO


The Indonesian government will again share samples of the H5NI bird flu virus with the World Health Organization, after the U.N. agency agreed to help protect Indonesia against overpriced flu drugs. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Jakarta.

Indonesia's decided to resume sharing bird flu after Jakarta and the World Health Organization (WHO) settled a dispute that has been simmering since early this year.

The agreement was reached at a meeting in Jakarta with health officials from more than a dozen nations and the World Health Organization. The meeting was called to coordinate work on the H5N1 virus, which causes bird flu.

Indonesia stopped sending virus samples to the WHO this year after an Australian drug company used the Indonesian strain of the virus to develop a vaccine without Indonesia's knowledge.

Jakarta fears its virus samples will be used to develop vaccines that poor nations like Indonesia cannot afford.

On Tuesday, the WHO agreed that it would not share samples of viruses with pharmaceutical companies unless the country where the virus originated gave its permission. That agreement was formally signed by the WHO and Indonesia as the three-day meeting ended Wednesday.

Indonesia's minister of health, Siti Fadilah Supari, says Jakarta is now satisfied.

She says because the WHO has agreed not to share the virus samples with drug companies without permission from the originating countries, Jakarta will begin to send the samples immediately.

WHO officials were worried the dispute could slow the development of a bird flu vaccine for humans.

But WHO Assistant Director-General for Communicable Disease David Heymann says poor nations should have the same rights as rich ones.

"Industrialized countries negotiate regularly for vaccines, and they have got stockpiles and they get vaccines. There is no reason that developing countries should not do the same thing," he said.

As the meeting ended, Jakarta announced three more deaths from the H5N1 virus, added to the 63 confirmed in Indonesia by the World Health Organization.