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WHO Reaches Bird Flu Vaccine Deal with Developing Countries

BY Admin  March 27, 2007 at 3:20 PM EDT

Indonesians working in a chicken slaughterhouse

As part of the deal, Indonesia agreed to continue sending samples of the virus after four months of keeping them from the U.N. health agency without guarantees that they would not be used commercially to develop vaccines that developing nations — hurt most by bird flu — could not afford.

Sixty-three of the 81 human cases officially reported in Indonesia from early 2003 to March 27, 2007, were fatal, the highest death toll of any country.

Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadiliah Supari said Indonesia would begin sharing samples immediately. The WHO collects regular samples and shares them with pharmaceutical companies working on vaccines.

“We trust WHO will not violate our trust, because this is related to the WHO’s credibility,” the Associated Press reported Supari as saying.

Monitoring samples helps scientists study the strain and track possible mutations in the virus that could spark a global pandemic. Most reported human cases have come in contact with sick birds and it remains an animal disease though officials fear it could mutate to spread easily from human to human.

In developing countries, many people live in close contact with backyard poultry and are suspicious of government programs that do not adequately compensate them when infected birds are destroyed to prevent the disease’s spread.

Delegates at the meeting also agreed to strengthen the global influenza surveillance network. WHO’s top bird flu official David Heymann said the WHO also was working with pharmaceutical companies and donor countries to build up a possible stockpile of vaccines.

Also on Tuesday, Egypt’s health ministry reported two more human cases of bird flu bringing the country’s total cases since 2003 to 29. Thirteen of these have been fatal.

The two recent Egyptian cases were a 6-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy who were exposed to dead birds and admitted into the hospital with high fevers.

In Japan, where there have been no official reports or human cases or deaths from bird flu, health officials announced they would continue stocking Tamiflu, an anti-viral drug used to prevent bird flu, despite concerns that it could cause psychiatric symptoms.

A Japanese news agency reported 81 cases of psychiatric symptoms in children under 10 in the past two years, most recently two teenagers who were hurt after falling from buildings after taking Tamiflu.

Japan’s Health Ministry said it plans to stock enough doses of Tamiflu to treat 25 million people.