Bird Flu Tug of War Underway


AP is reporting a very important story today about Indonesia’s battle for control over H5N1 avian flu strains with the World Health Organization.
WHO should have access to the viral material and should share it with pharmaceutical companies working on a vaccine. But Indonesia’s gripes are legitimate and deserve to be taken seriously. A scenario could indeed play out in which Indonesia, which has suffered more confirmed bird flu-related deaths than any other country, shares its information and then cannot afford the vaccine produced as a result of its good-faith cooperation.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt had this to say:

“All nations have a responsibility to share data and virus samples,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt said in an e-mailed statement that also offered $10 million to WHO to help make sure poor countries have access to vaccines.
“Responding to a pandemic will demand the cooperation of the world community. No nation can go it alone,” he said. “If a country is to protect its own people, it must work together with other nations to protect the people of the world.”

Mike Leavitt’s not wrong – in fact, his talk is right on here. But the U.S. and the international community are far from off the hook. We are not doing our part.
Committing to share a substantial portion of bird flu vaccines at a steep discount or for free would be a good first step, but even that falls short of what’s needed.
A colleague and I used to joke that poultry farmers simply need to stop kissing chickens. Obviously, the picture is vastly more complex, but our joke holds a grain of truth. The most effective preventive action the world can take – for developing countries and aid donors alike – would be to vastly expand education and assistance to developing country poultry farmers. It’s sorely needed.
Indonesia is one of many countries that has suffered from avian flu, figures to suffer more in the future, and lacks the resources to contain or protect itself from the deadly disease. I think its withholding of virus samples is a negotiating tactic to get more help. WHO is optimistic that it can break the impasse improve access to flu vaccines in developing countries.
I hope the negotiating works out as it should – Indonesia gets the help and assurances it needs, and WHO gets the viral strains it needs to help pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine.
— Scott Paul


9 comments on “Bird Flu Tug of War Underway

  1. karenk says:

    I always say healthcare delivery is ultimately a socialistic endeavor not a capitalistic one. That’s why our system is such a mess. Do you treat a 90 year old for cancer over a 7 year old because his insurance is better? Go ahead, ignore the homeless guy, but at your peril-left untreated, he may cough resistant TB on you in the subway. We’re all human and diseases like the flu can kill the rich as well as the poor. And not to be picky but FYI David N, if you’re referring history’s most lethal flu virus, it was in 1918.


  2. liz says:

    As a former health professional I am appalled that the response to emerging diseases in America has been to ignore them. I hope everyone understands that Insurance companies have tasked working groups of docs to limit and ration care. ( Infectious Disease Society of America- treatment guidelines is but one example.) Now that insurance companies have all the power of your life and your illnesses, how do they plan to treat the bird flu?
    Why does the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control want me to think that Lyme Disease cannot travel to South Carolina and there is no way I could possibly have that DNA in my PCR sample ( BUT I DO) and they also want me to think that Bird Flu can get to SC from Asia.
    Lyme Disease is a zoonotic illness. All bioterror comes from zoonotic agents.
    Why does America lock up doctors that treat this illness? Why has the Infectious Disease Society written the lowest of possible standards for care using 4 % of the available MIH research??
    And has anyone caught on to how expensive Heart angioplasties are yet? So let’s change the statistics so that the insurance companies MAKE MORE MONEY
    Is Bird Flu about money? Will it be exhortion to get it treated?
    Will the powers that be stop and limit treatment for Bird Flu too?>??
    When will cancer care be limited and rationed??? Since Mrs. Edwards has publicly called attention to that one again, watch out cancer patients… someone is gonna come along and declare another war on cancer…..
    Time to use your brains people.


  3. Pissed Off American says:

    I don’t understand why the big pharmas don’t just reverse the process. Develop the vaccine BEFORE they let loose the bug. Hell, they could increase their profits tenfold, and also target specific markets. And Chertoff could compile a “no inoculation list”.
    Perhaps Cheney will read this and say “What a great idea!”
    Do you suppose they’ll cut me in?


  4. David N says:

    Well, saving lives is all well and good, but if it interferes with the profit margins of Big Pharma, forget it.
    That seems to be the official policy of this administration. Profit above all else.
    We have lost our way, and are repeating 1914.


  5. Carroll says:

    They may be right to hold out…
    There should be NO patents in cases like’inhuman to even think about allowing a monopoly.


  6. selise says:

    “I think its withholding of virus samples is a negotiating tactic to get more help.”
    the problem, as i see it, is that WHO doesn’t control pharma.
    market mechanisms (as our markets now operate) don’t give us a reasonable public health outcome.
    maybe stiglitz is right – offer a prize, but no monopoly (patent):


  7. steambomb says:

    Stay on it POA! Oh this is a little off topic but I thought you all might like to see this.
    Former Reaganomics dude indicted for securities fraud! Go figure!
    Party on republicrats!


  8. Pissed Off American says:

    Well, perhaps when Hagel is zipping about our skies in the Novartis Learjet, he will discuss this pressing issue with his Pharma benefactors.


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