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WHO Urges Indonesia to Share Live H5N1 Virus Samples
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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday urged Indonesia to share with it usable samples of the H5N1 bird flu virus as part of the global efforts to prevent a potential pandemic.

David Heymann, the UN agency's assistant director-general for communicable diseases, said Indonesia provided three specimens in May, but none of them contained live virus.

"What's important is that all countries share viruses that they isolate from humans," Heymann said in a conference call with journalists.

Heymann said sharing virus samples was vital for the development of effective vaccines. "If those viruses are not freely shared with industry, vaccines will not contain the elements of the Indonesia infections."

He said that not only the Indonesian population but the world would be at risk if usable H5N1 virus samples were not shared.

But the official said he was optimistic that Indonesia would cooperate with WHO on virus sharing.

"Indonesia is aware of these issues and is working with WHO see how they can best begin sharing again," Heymann said. "We are hoping that that will begin fairly soon."

Indonesia, which has been hit hardest by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, stopped sharing its samples with WHO-supported laboratories early this year, complaining that its virus samples were being used for commercial purposes by private pharmaceutical companies.

However, the country agreed to resume virus sharing during the 60th World Health Assembly in May after receiving assurances from WHO that any vaccines developed would not be too expensive for developing nations.

But Heymann said Indonesia only provided three unusable samples in May and no other samples had been shared this year.

The 60th World Health Assembly agreed that WHO's member states should revise the conditions in which influenza viruses and their benefits should be shared.

(Xinhua News Agency August 7, 2007)

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