Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Indonesia, Avian Influenza & Global Inequities in Technology Access

Two weeks ago Indonesia announced that it would no longer provide samples of the H5N1 (Avian Influenza) virus to the World Health Organization (WHO). The decision by Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari was based on reasoning that commercial entities would use information derived from freely donated Indonesian samples to develop vaccines that would not be accessible to most Indonesians.

Indonesia is faced with with various challenges (world’s 4th most populous nation, 6000 inhabited islands) to dealing with a human epidemic, should one occur. And should one occur, Indonesia is a likely to be hit hard – currently 38% of mortalities worldwide (63 out of 167) have been identified in Indonesia (source: Wikipedia).

Instead of providing the viral samples with the WHO, Indonesia’s plan was to share exclusively with Baxter HealthCare (USA) in exchange for technology to develop the vaccine domestically. This arrangement has met with considerable sympathy (The Lancet), but the WHO was of course very interested in continuing to receive samples.

More recently, Indonesia has agreed to “resume sending avian flu virus samples to the [WHO] as soon as it is guaranteed access to affordable vaccines against the disease” (source: Indonesia Offering Samples of Bird Flu, NY Times).

One Indonesian reporter’s view is in agreement with Indonesia’s position, but in more direct language (source: RI must stay angry, but temper its anger with wisdom, The Jakarta Post):

Treating poor countries as Petri dishes for the robust growth of diseases so pharmaceutical companies can produce vaccines, and perhaps life-saving drugs, only for countries able to afford them is obliviously discriminative.

There is a local saying cacing pun marah ketika diinjak, literally translated as even a worm gets upset when stepped upon. This must seriously be pondered upon by those with greater power to review their initial righteous intentions of creating a better world.

Indonesia has made a bold, but necessary, move on behalf of itself and other developing countries. Upcoming developments will tell how much of an impact such an action can have.

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Written by Jaspal

February 20, 2007 at 7:05 am

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