WHO Mulls Boosting Access to Vaccines

JAKARTA ~ The World Health Organisation (WHO) will look at ways of stockpiling vaccines to help poorer nations, including any future vaccines against bird flu, its director general said this week.

“We will look at in what way we can develop a global stockpile of vaccines, particularly for developing countries,” Margaret Chan said after meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta on Wednesday.

She said she shared the government’s concerns about the importance of access to high-quality, affordable vaccines.

Indonesia is the nation worst hit by bird flu, with 72 human deaths from 92 cases. Scientists fear the disease could mutate into a form that could kill millions worldwide, making access to future vaccines against it crucial.

The WHO would examine how to improve the capacity of developing nations to produce vaccines, Chan said.

“The world’s production of vaccine is rather limited,” she said. “We need to see whether we can get more resources from partners and wealthy countries to support developing countries to improve their capacity.”

Indonesia had stopped sharing bird flu samples from human cases with the world body over concerns that drug firms would exploit them to develop costly vaccines developing nations would struggle to afford.

It lifted the ban last month after agreeing a deal with the WHO under which firms will need permission from a country to access its virus samples.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said after the meeting on Wednesday that Chan’s visit showed the WHO’s goodwill, and that Indonesia would resume sending virus samples within two months.

The WHO says the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus has infected 288 people and killed 170 of them, mostly in Southeast Asia, since 2003.

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