Indonesia’s health minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, has answered the question whether the recently concluded Geneva summit on sharing of influenza viruses had produced sufficient agreement to induce that country to begin sharing again. Her answer seems to be “no”:
Indonesia’s health minister reiterated Sunday that she would not send bird flu specimens to the World Health Organization, saying poor nations needed assurances that any pandemic vaccines developed from the virus would be affordable.
Siti Fadilah Supari made the comments on her return from Geneva, where the WHO held an intergovernmental conference aimed at rebuilding a global system for sharing flu viruses following a months-long standoff with Indonesia.
“The meeting failed to come up with a material transfer agreement,” she told reporters in the city of Bandung. “So we have no obligation to send bird flu virus samples to the World Health Organization.” (AP via Jakarta Post)
Does this mean failure? Only if you view the Indonesian sharing refusal as the sole and only issue on the table. But as Hammond argued persuasively, there were shifts in position by the US and EU on other issues, shifts that may produce important changes in the influenza surveillance system. Those changes are important in themselves and they may also bear on the Indonesian response insofar as they isolate Siti Fadilah Supari’s intransigence. The strength of her position to date has been that it highlighted a genuine problem that Indonesia shared with other developing countries. With an interim agreement and plan to move forward, Indonesia’s sometime allies may split from the intransigent position the Indonesian Health Minister has taken.
This also puts pressure on the follow-up negotiations to make good on the potential for progress. If they scuttle the follow-up they will wreck the Global Influenza Surveillance System. The blame will then clearly fall on the US and EU.
Update, November 26, 2008: This report from Nature News corroborates Ed Hammond’s earlier dispatches. Remember, you heard it here first:
A deal is being negotiated that could see Indonesia end its policy of withholding samples from human cases of avian flu.
Indonesia says it will share samples under a material transfer agreement that allows research use, but gives Indonesia sovereign ownership of the samples. The country also wants access to vaccines developed using its samples. An international meeting on 20?23 November in Geneva, Switzerland, ended without agreement. But a statement, still being thrashed out by negotiators, is expected to open the way to concessions. (Nature News)