March 24, 2008 / 10:49 AM / 12 years ago

Indonesia limits sharing of bird flu samples

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia will not fully share bird flu virus samples with the World Health Organisation until a new global mechanism is in place, a senior official said on Monday.

A chicken to be transported to a local market is seen in Jakarta March 24, 2008. Indonesia will not fully share bird flu virus samples with the World Health Organisation until a new global mechanism is in place, a senior official said on Monday. REUTERS/Crack Palinggi

Indonesia is the nation worst hit by H5N1 avian influenza, with 129 human cases, of whom 105 have died.

Indonesia sent bird flu virus samples last month to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a WHO-collaborating laboratory, after a nearly 6-month hiatus when it won assurance that it would get access to affordable vaccines.

But Bayu Krisnamurthi, head of a national commission dealing with bird flu, said Indonesia would only send virus samples on a case-by-case basis until a new virus sharing mechanism currently being drawn up by the WHO took effect.

“The health ministry decides whether or not to send samples,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of a meeting to step up the campaign against bird flu in the capital Jakarta and surrounding areas.

He declined to say under what circumstances the ministry would decide to send samples to a WHO collaborating laboratory.

Indonesia drew international concern when it defied protocol and refused to share its virus samples last year, saying it wanted guarantees from richer nations and drugmakers that poor countries would get access to affordable vaccines derived from their samples.

Talks hosted by the WHO last year in Geneva failed to reach an agreement on a new virus-sharing system, and the impasse only seemed to ease when Indonesia handed over samples last month.

The WHO says it has begun to disclose how and where samples it receives are used in response to poor countries’ demands for more transparency.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said last week Indonesian efforts have done little to control bird flu and the nation needed more help in controlling the virus.

Surveillance and response teams are working in 193 out of 448 districts in Indonesia, yet birds in 31 out of 33 provinces are affected, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said.

Krisnamurthi said bird flu had cost Indonesia 4.1 trillion rupiah ($446.6 million) since cases in poultry were discovered in 2004, excluding the impact of job losses and reduced protein consumption among the population.

But he said there had not been evidence that the virus had mutated into a form that could jump easily between people.

The chief of Jakarta’s animal husbandry department, Edy Setiarto, told the same news conference that he expected the city to be free of live poultry by 2010.

He said the current campaign to rid the capital of backyard poultry had faced problems because some residents had resisted.

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