Nations work to share virus samples to help avert global pandemic

Posted Apr 16, 2011 by Michael Krebs
With the ongoing threat of a global influenza pandemic as a backdrop, the World Health Organization announced that it is working with a large pool of nations to more readily share viral samples to help avert more widespread infection.
Saudi Arabia cull on 158 000 chickens following the outbreak of H5N1 strain of bird flu  reported in...
Saudi Arabia cull on 158,000 chickens following the outbreak of H5N1 strain of bird flu, reported in January 2008.
Photo courtesy of Middle East Online
With the World Health Organization reporting on cases of the dreaded H5N1 bird flu emerging tentatively in Egypt, Cambodia, and Bangladesh in April, WHO operatives announced this week that they are expecting a broad agreement among numerous countries to readily and immediately share virus samples in an effort to better understand the nature of the threat and to more rapidly help establish a vaccine.
Diplomats met with reporters to further discuss their cooperation and said they were talking with multinational pharmaceutical companies about establishing a trade in viral samples for more affordable vaccines, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday.
The World Health Organization set up a working group for its 193 member countries to tackle the challenge.
"We have to ensure that vaccines are both affordable and accessible," Mexico's ambassador and WHO working group co-chair Juan Jose Gomez Camacho, said, according to Reuters. "We need to ensure that we have a legally-binding instrument that will regulate the exchange of influenza viruses and the access to benefits ... This should be the last round of negotiations."
While humanity dodged a significant bullet with the rapid and surprisingly tame emergence of the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, WHO officials are warning of the influenza's return, particularly in environments like Fiji where infrastructure and accessibility to victims present logistics issues, as Radio New Zealand reported earlier in the month.
But influenza monitors are concerned about the H5N1 virus, also known more popularly as bird flu.
"Human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) have now been reported in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the near East, Indonesia, and Vietnam," the National Center for Biotechnology Information stated in a January 2010 report. "Around 400 people have become sick with this virus. However, a little over 60% of those who became ill have died. The more the avian flu virus spreads, the greater the chances of a worldwide outbreak. There is a tremendous concern that H5N1 poses an enormous pandemic threat."
Multinational coordination is essential for preventing a global pandemic, and the H1N1 influenza's rapid incorporation into the broader ecology was due in part to poor information sharing among the global community.