WHO Fails to Sway Indonesia

Reuters released a tiny blurb a few hours ago: WHO fails to reach an agreement with Indonesia over sharing H5N1 viral samples. No surprise.

GENEVA, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Health officials have failed to reach agreement on a new system to ensure developing countries benefit more from sharing bird flu viruses used to develop vaccines, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

"Nobody can fault you for not trying … It is so close, yet so far away," WHO director-general Margaret Chan told the final session of a four-day meeting. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jonathan Lynn)

It reminds me so much of Turkey’s stand with the US when it requested that US troops be allowed to stage on their border, and launch an invasion from it into Iraq. Turkey kept telling us no because they wanted thus and so, and couldn’t imagine that the US was in any position to deny whatever they requested, the US kept saying no because they couldn’t imagine that such a good ally would deny us such a vital request. In the end, neither got what they wanted. Turkey was shocked the US turned down their demands, the US was shocked Turkey refused their request.

From this side of the issue I found the wording quite interesting. According to WHO the international body "failed to ensure developing countries benefit more from sharing viruses used to develop vaccines". Reading those words it is easy to interpret that the world does not want to share any of the scarce vaccines, which is simply not the truth.

Depending on whose figures you choose to read—and believe—the world will have between 500 million and 1.2 billion vaccines should the pandemic happen in the near future (1 – 3 years). The low figure is pretty much where we are now, the high represents a year or two out and if everything happens perfectly with new processes and adjuvants (still in trials and not yet approved). Therefore, I would assume the true figure rests somewhere in the middle of the two figures.

Indonesia has a population of ~250 million so that breaks down to either half or twenty percent of the entire world’s yearly production of PanFlu vaccine.

Indonesia has complained that when it wanted to buy Tamiflu the "rich countries" had bought up all of the supply. Perhaps… but Tamiflu was supplied by Roche on a first-come-first-serve basis. Moreover, there is the simple fact that Roche donated 3 million Tamilfu treatment courses to WHO for rapid deployment. To say nothing of this little tidbit:

From USAToday 07Dec05:


Tamiflu is not patent protected in some countries, including Indonesia. That means the drug can be made there without compensation to Roche. Indonesia has said it would make its own Tamiflu for domestic consumption.

This from People’s Daily Online 16Dec05:


Indonesia has sufficient stock of Tamiflu tablets for remedy as well as license from the Swiss drug maker Roche Holding for production of the tablets.

According to Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari, Indonesia would produce anti-bird flu vaccine for human next year. "We will produce the vaccine in January and the vaccine can be marketed in December."

Indonesia is also nearly free from polio outbreak, after the country vaccinated over 24 millions youngsters nationwide in three rounds during the last three months.

The World Health Organization says that the drives have significantly decreased the development of the polio virus and recommended two more rounds soon, in order to completely reach the possible un-reached youngsters during the three rounds.

"We will continue [polio] (the immunization). All funds needed have been obtained, " Health Minster Siti Fadillah Sufari said, adding that 70 percent of the funds was donated by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nation Children of Funds and international rotary organizations, while the rest was from state budget.

"After March we will be free from polio," said Fadillah.

In addition, let us not forget the (USD) 10 billion for Tsunami relief in international aid, Indonesia being the recipient of much of that aid.

The country of Indonesia is a mess, there is no arguing it is a country in need of international aid, which it receives, as much of the world is generous to people in need.

I am in favor of free enterprise, capitalism, and all that; if you have something that someone wants there is generally an exchange of value, monetary or otherwise. However, at the same time I subscribe to the belief that when there is need those that can remedy the need should do so, most religions have the concept of "good works", some integrated as a required tenant. Indonesia has been the recipient of many "good works", governmental and NGO; it’s Indonesia’s turn to answer a call of need.

Roche gave up its patent so that Indonesia could manufacture a drug that the world is scrambling for; I applaud Roche for such action. Had they not I would be, and have previously, advocate for patent busting where Tamiflu is concerned. People’s lives should not depend on a further fattening a corporation’s coffers, not when there is no reasonable ability to pay.

The simple fact is the world needs the samples for monitoring changes not for pandemic vaccines. A pre-pandemic vaccine will be akin to a bucket brigade fighting a burning barn, better than nothing, and a slim chance of working. The world could just as well make up the less-than-perfect pre-pandemic vaccines from virus samples from Egypt.

Pandemic specific vaccines will come so late and to so few that the issue really isn’t an issue at all. Should an influenza pandemic happen before 5 years have passed we will face it naked, or at least the vast majority of the world’s citizens will. I will be just as lacking in vaccine as the average Indonesian. As will my husband, and daughter-in-law. Maybe, if we are very lucky, my grandbaby might get one around month 8 or 9 of the PanFlu—maybe. Oh, my son will get one when they vaccinate the First Responders/Law Enforcement—if he avoids infection long enough—and lives long enough. But given his dealings with the public and his age neither of those things are very likely.

No, Indonesia gets no sympathy or understanding from me.

However, the real issue is we need the virus samples to know what is happening with the virus itself. We need to know the changes the virus is undergoing in Indonesia. Is it moving closer to human adaptation—or farther away? Stasis in a virus is not to be hoped for so I do not even consider that a possibility. Is it time to pull out all the stops and gird ourselves for a pandemic or do we still have time? Only analysis of the virus itself will answer those questions.

Of course, I have said pretty the same things many times before. I admit the issue is a "hot button" with me. Mdm. Supari’s rhetoric spawns mine, the difference is though, mine represent a few bits and bytes in cyber space, hers may well represent human lives, perhaps even lives that I treasure above my own.

Just as Turkey tried to extort a critical need, so too Indonesia. Perhaps Indonesia would be well served to look up what Turkey got for all of its intractable and exorbitant demands.


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