Monday, March 26, 2007

Bird Flu Samples, Vaccines, and Equity

The ongoing dialogue between Indonesia and the World Health Organization over bird flu samples provides an interesting example of dilemmas of equity in the international community. Indonesia has departed in the last couple months from a 50-year old-tradition of countries sharing free samples of viruses with research centers in the United States, Britain, Japan, and Australia. As reported in the New York Times today, Indonesia continues to maintain that it will only share its H5N1 bird flu samples—which are critical to the WHO’s ongoing monitoring of the virus—if it receives a guarantee of affordable access to vaccines. In her opening remarks at the current meeting between Indonesia and the WHO, Siti Fadillah Supari, Indonesia’s health minister stated: “We must work together to change the perverse incentives that have resulted in developing countries being disadvantaged.” She also noted to urgency of assisting poor countries with domestic vaccine production. Indonesia and the WHO may reach agreement this week on the issue, but however it gets resolved, the dispute highlights the need for international lawyers to consistently search for creative ways to engage ongoing structural inequity.

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