Indonesia Resumes Sharing Bird Flu Samples

NUSA DUA ~ A UN official and Indonesian minister said this week that Indonesia had resumed sending samples of the bird flu virus infecting humans to the World Health Organisation.

The government said last month that it had stopped sending samples until it was guaranteed access to affordable medicines to treat victims of the deadly virus, though it then shared one to prove it had not mutated.

Scientists carefully monitor the samples to check for mutations that could allow the H5N1 virus to spread easily among humans, leading to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

“Indonesia is now sharing viral materials … There are two cases that I know have or will be made available to the WHO,” said David Nabbaro, the UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza.

He told reporters on the margins of a two-day meeting between the government and its partners in fighting avian influenza that sharing viral materials was vital for public health.

“But countries got very uncomfortable about sharing data and samples when there was no certainty that what they are sharing would be used to their benefit,” he said.

Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie confirmed that Indonesia was now sharing the virus material, with two samples recently sent on.

The meeting was being held in Bali, where two fatalities from bird flu were reported last month, raising fears of an impact on the vital tourism industry there.

“I would like to take this opportunity to say again that Bali is safe and we prove that today by having this international meeting here in Nusa Dua,” Bakrie told the meeting.

Another 83 people have died in other parts of Indonesia since the first human infection case was discovered in mid-2005, the highest toll in the world.

“When it comes to highly pathogenic avian influenza caused by the H5N1 virus, Indonesia is the country that is facing the biggest challenge,” Nabbaro said.

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