Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Indonesia refuses to give bird flu samples to the World Health Organization without a guarantee that the virus would not be used to make unaffordable vaccines. Meanwhile, two more deaths from bird flu have been confirmed in the country and there is another case of infection.
Yesterday, Siti Fadiliah Supari, Indonesia’s Health Minister, reiterated her government’s stand during a meeting held to resolve the dispute. WHO has warned that without virus samples, scientists cannot monitor the situation and ascertain whether the virus is mutating into more contagious form. But the country has replied by saying that the big pharmaceutical companies using Indonesian samples created vaccines that were too costly and urged WHO not to give samples to large firms that used them to their advantage. Supari said in an interview: “These practices keep developing countries poor and sick. The system is more dangerous than bird flu itself.”
With 66 certified deaths, Indonesia is the country hardest hit by the disease but it cannot afford to pay costly vaccines for its population of more than 220 million. Its stand has been approved by other developing countries, many of which came to Jakarta to search for a solution to the problem. Since the end of 2003, the disease has killed 169 people worldwide but it is held that this figure is a gross under-estimation of its true toll.
WHO Director David Heymann countered Indonesia’s objections by saying that the country’s stand was hindering research about the virus. He proposed a stockpile of vaccines for developing countries as well as help to produce them.
Meanwhile, Indonesia has reached a tentative agreement with drug manufacturer Baxter Healthcare Corp. Under the deal, Indonesia would provide samples of the virus in exchange for stockpiles of the vaccine.
Mike Leavitt, US Secretary of Health and Human Services, also urged Jakarta to review its stand and offered WHO 10 million dollars to help poor countries access vaccines.
Today, Muhammad Nadirin, a health ministry official, said tests revealed that the virus had killed another two people, although the results are yet to be confirmed. A 15-year-old boy from Indramayu (western Java) died on 25 March, and a 22-year-old woman from Palembang (south-east Sumatra) died on 24 March. Local sources said the latter had never had contact with birds but had at least 20 cats at home. In this country, it has been proved that cats can contract and spread the disease. A 39-year-old infected man from Mojokerto (eastern Java) has been admitted to Soetomo hospital (Surabaya).
Meanwhile, there are three more cases of infection in Egypt, bringing its number of cases to 29. These are a five-year-old boy from Minya, a six-year-old girl from Hajer Mohamed Awadallah, who was admitted to the southern city of Aswan. In Aswan region, there have already been two cases of infection but the Health Minister said these “are not related”.