U.N. health agency claims Indonesia has to resume sharing bird flu virus samples

The U.N. health agency said Monday Indonesia has to resume sharing samples from human bird flu victims with the World Health Organization, because such situation threatens not only the Asian nation but the entire world.

David Heymann, assistant director-general for communicable diseases at WHO, said the agency had received three specimens from Jakarta in May, but none contained any live virus.

"What's important is that all countries share viruses that they isolate from humans," Heymann said.

"By not sharing the viruses, Indonesia is ... putting in danger its own populations, because if those viruses are not freely shared with industry, vaccines will not contain the elements of the Indonesia infections. The second thing that Indonesia is doing is therefore putting the whole world at risk."

Indonesia - the nation hit hardest by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu - stopped sharing its samples with international scientists searching for mutations early this year because Jakarta wanted assurances that any vaccines developed would not be too expensive for developing nations.

It ended its boycott in May, however, after receiving assurances from WHO that the virus samples would be used for risk assessment and not passed on to private pharmaceutical companies without Jakarta's permission.

China - which had not shared H5N1 specimens with WHO for almost a year - sent bird flu samples in June. Vietnam has sent samples but has encountered shipping road blocks, Heymann said.

Heymann said he was optimistic Indonesia would come around.

"They understand these issues," he said.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 192 people, largely in Asia, since late 2003, according to WHO.

So far, the virus remains hard for people to catch, but experts fear it will mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, potentially sparking a pandemic. Currently, most human cases are linked to contact with infected birds.

Health experts met in Singapore last week to discuss virus sharing. WHO's 193 member states will examine the issue at the World Health Assembly, scheduled to meet next May.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova