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Flu sample share scheme set

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Scientists work on developing the swine flu vaccine inside a Bio-safety Level 3 lab at Thailand’s Sillapakorn University in 2009.

World Health Organisation member states have agreed to share influenza virus samples in a bid to combat potential pandemics, including the A(H5N1) influenza commonly known as bird flu.

The agreement follows the death of an 11-year-old girl from Kampong Cham province last month from respiratory complications resulting from bird flu.

According to a WHO statement released Sunday, members have agreed to a framework outlining legal mechanisms for the WHO, national influenza laboratories and industry partners – including pharmaceutical manufacturers – to increase access to affordable vaccines and antiviral medicines.

Negotiations between the 193 member states, including Cambodia, began in November 2007 amid fears that the bird flu virus would become a pandemic in Southeast Asia, the statement said.

Phillipe Buchy, chief of virology at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, said yesterday that previously negotiations had stalled and there were no clear rules on sharing different strains of viruses.

“Most of the [member] states were openly sharing the information but some did not. So…it was difficult to have access to new strains in order to prepare the new [flu] vaccine,” he said.

“Since all the members agreed now, this is great news.”

Buchy added that vaccines should be accessible to people in poorer countries.

“If there is cooperation between governments and the [pharmaceutical] industry to provide a reasonable cost vaccine for everybody, I think it is ideal,” he said.

Pieter van Maaren, country representative for the WHO, said that the organisation must be cautious with private-sector partnerships.

“Partnerships in itself are not a bad idea because that would bring in additional opportunities for financing, but when it comes to which partnerships, I think that needs to be thoroughly studied,” he said.

“There is so easily a conflict of interest.”

Ministry of Health officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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