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WHO Director Urges Nations to Share Bird Flu Virus Strains

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, has called upon all member countries not to hold back any H5N1 virus samples as that would handicap the organization in the fight contain bird blu.

"If you do not share the virus with us . I would fail you," said he said in a speech to the agency's 193 member countries. Without H5N1 samples from affected countries, Chan said that "you are tying my hands, you're muffling my ears, you're blinding my eyes."

He said that a flu pandemic would be the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. Tracking H5N1's evolution is essential to determine when virus mutations might enable it to be more easily spread between people.

Without current bird flu samples, Chan warned that the global community's current stockpiles _ numerous countries have bought anti-viral and pre-pandemic vaccine stockpiles_ would be wasted.

"I need the virus to track new resistance patterns so that your investment in antivirals does not go down the drain," Chan said.

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

Chan did not single out any country by name, but Indonesia and China have been the main holdouts. Indonesia in particular has been locked in a virus stand off with WHO since last year.

Though Indonesia's health minister Tuesday announced that the country had shared three viruses with a WHO-accredited laboratory in Japan, it is uncertain whether further viruses will be shared. Indonesia has complained that the viruses it shares would be used for vaccines that its population cannot afford.

China has also been less than forthcoming with bird flu samples. No H5N1 viruses have been received from China for nearly a year _ during which time
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