This morning we have an excellent offering from The Washington Post:
'Sovereignty' That Risks Global Health
By Richard Holbrooke and Laurie Garrett
Sunday, August 10, 2008; B07
Here's a concept you've probably never heard of: "viral sovereignty." This extremely dangerous idea comes to us courtesy of Indonesia's minister of health, Siti Fadilah Supari, who asserts that deadly viruses are the sovereign property of individual nations -- even though they cross borders and could pose a pandemic threat to all the peoples of the world. So far "viral sovereignty" has been noted almost exclusively by health experts. Political leaders around the world should take note -- and take very strong action.
The vast majority of repeated avian flu outbreaks the past four years, in both humans and poultry, have occurred in Indonesia. At least 53 types of H5N1 bird flu viruses have appeared in chickens and people there, the World Health Organization has reported.
Yet, since 2005, Indonesia has shared with the WHO samples from only two of the more than 135 people known to have been infected with H5N1 (110 of whom have died). Worse, Indonesia is no longer providing the WHO with timely notification of bird flu outbreaks or human cases. Since 2007, its government has openly defied International Health Regulations and a host of other WHO agreements to which Indonesia is a signatory.
A year ago, Supari's assertions about "viral sovereignty" seemed to be odd yet individual views. Disturbingly, however, the notion has morphed into a global movement, fueled by self-destructive, anti-Western sentiments. In May, Indian Health Minister A. Ramadoss endorsed the concept in a dispute with Bangladesh. The Non-Aligned Movement -- a 112-nation organization that is a survivor of the Cold War era -- has agreed to consider formally endorsing the concept of "viral sovereignty" at its November meeting.
I, along with my fellow PanFlu bloggers [see sidebar] have repeatedly commented on this issue, and I welcomed this piece by two rather "Big Hitters", Mr. Holbrooke and Ms. Garrett. My first post on "viral sovereignty", Viral Cold War, expresses my own, still operative, opinions on the issue.
Also from the WP article…
In this age of globalization, failure to make viral samples open-source risks allowing the emergence of a new strain of influenza that could go unnoticed until it is capable of exacting the sort of toll taken by the 1918 pandemic that killed tens of millions of people. As the world learned with the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) -- which first appeared in China in 2002 but was not reported by Chinese officials until it spread to four other nations -- globally shared health risk demands absolute global transparency.
There is strong evidence from a variety of sources that forms of the bird flu virus circulating in Indonesia are more virulent than those elsewhere and in a few cases may have spread directly from one person to another. The WHO has tried for two years to accommodate Indonesia, without success. Under pressure from scientists worldwide, Indonesia agreed in June to share genetic data on some of its viral samples but not the actual microbes. Without access to the viruses, it is impossible to verify the accuracy of such genetic information or to make vaccines against the deadly microbes.
Outrageously, Supari has charged that the WHO would give any viruses -- not just H5N1 -- to drug companies, which in turn would make products designed to sicken poor people, in order "to prolong their profitable business by selling new vaccines" (a charge oddly reminiscent of the plot of John le Carré's novel "The Constant Gardener"). The WHO has elicited pledges from the world's major drug companies not to exploit international repositories of genetic data for commercial benefit, but this has not satisfied Indonesia.
The failure to share potentially pandemic viral strains with world health agencies is morally reprehensible. Allowing Indonesia and other countries to turn this issue into another rich-poor, Islamic-Western dispute would be tragic -- and could lead to a devastating health crisis anywhere, at any time.
Many of the consequences of the Cold War were morally reprehensible. That is not a "catch phrase" but the simple truth of the past follies of our governments.
Have we learned nothing?