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WHO Announces Deal on Sharing Bird Flu Virus

Addressing the concerns of developing countries like Indonesia, the Unjted Nations health body, the World Health Organization (WHO), has promised efforts would be made to ensure "fair and equitable distribution of pandemic influenza vaccines at affordable prices in the event of a pandemic."

At the same time the bird-flu-hit countries agreed to "timely sharing of viruses" with the WHO.

A resolution on those lines is being adopted by the World Heath Assembly. The discussion on virus sample sharing was among the predominant subjects at WHO's annual meeting against the backdrop of an ongoing battle with Indonesia over H5N1 virus samples.

Several experimental pre-pandemic vaccines based on H5N1 exist, but as the virus continues to mutate, scientists need to match the latest circulating strains to that in the vaccine, to ensure that the vaccines would work.

But Indonesia, China have shown reluctance in sharing the strain samples.

Indonesia has not shared any bird flu samples since last December, pointing out that the pharmaceutical companies that could develop vaccines could make them too expensive for its population.

Though Indonesia's health minister last week announced that the country had shared three viruses with a WHO-accredited laboratory in Japan, it is uncertain whether further viruses will be shared.

China has also been reluctant to share samples. No H5N1 viruses have been received from China for nearly a year -- during which time Beijing has reported several human bird flu cases. China is preparing five virus samples to share with WHO, but it is unknown when they will actually be sent, according to WHO.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan last week harshly criticized countries that do not share their H5N1 virus samples, accusing them of crippling the world in the fight against a possible flu pandemic. But she didnt comment on Indonesias fears.

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