Some days it's just not a good idea for me to read the news. I am barely coherent due to pain from an injury I sustained yesterday because I wasn't paying attention due to mental fogginess from illness, (in other words: this day finds me pretty much a mess) and yet—and yet—Indonesia, or I should say Indonesian Health Minister Supari, has once again driven me to nearly apoplectic fits of rage and indignation.
From The Jakarta Post:
JAKARTA (JP): The virus sample sharing deal between the Indonesian Health Ministry and the World Health Organization has been criticized after the ministry's repeated requests for the return 58 bird flu viruses have gone unanswered.
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said Thursday the ministry asked for the return of the samples three months ago, but had yet to receive any response.
"We have been demanding the return of our viruses since August, but the WHO has never replied," Siti told a media conference regarding National Health Day, which falls next Monday.
Siti said Indonesia did not keep a stockpile of seed viruses because international regulations did not allow it.
"The regulation is actually detrimental to us, because it obliges the source country to give up all its samples." (Desy Nurhayati)
Those who have been reading my humble blog for any length of time and regularity know that I suffer no patience when it comes to Indonesia sharing, or not, the H5N1 virus samples with WHO (World Health Organization). Too much is at risk for the entire world's population for any one country to act in a wholly selfish manner, but I admit that that view is strictly driven by a sense of "fairness" informed in no small measure by a generalized belief that when one can do something to prevent human suffering and/or death one is morally obligated to do so.
Morality is not universally defined across individuals, or even across societies, so an appeal on moral grounds serves nothing more than recording a personal belief. For appeals that carry the weight of policy we have to look to our international organizations, in this case the UN, and more specifically WHO.
Since I could do no better I will quote from CIDRAP's Oct 17, 2007 piece on where we stand in regards to Indonesia's claim of "ownership" of the viral samples.
Oct 17, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday released a report on patenting issues related to influenza viruses, following up on a resolution adopted by the World Health Assembly in May to address the concerns of Indonesia and other developing countries about access to pandemic flu vaccines and treatments.
The report was prepared by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and will be presented at a WHO intergovernmental meeting on virus sharing and access to vaccines, which will take place in Geneva from Nov 20 through 23. Like the WHO, WIPO is a United Nations agency.
Indonesia stopped sending H5N1 samples to the WHO last December as a protest, saying the country couldn't afford the vaccines that drug companies would develop from the virus samples they submitted. Since then Indonesia has shared only a few samples.
Indonesia's action raised the possibility that it and other countries affected by H5N1 flu might claim legal ownership of H5N1 isolates. Researchers need H5N1 samples to track the virus's evolution and drug susceptibility and to develop vaccines.
The 41-page WHO report emphasizes that its purpose is to provide technical background information on patent issues related to influenza viruses, not to address questions such as benefit sharing, virus surveillance, or vaccine production.
The authors, while not making definitive legal assessments, highlight several observations. Among them:
Early, open publication of the gene sequence of a newly isolated flu virus strain would preclude patent protection, but would facilitate broad-based research and development.
Sequencing a gene using regular laboratory techniques is not likely to be considered inventive or nonobvious enough to warrant a patent.
Unless there is a clearly disclosed and defined new and useful function, most countries deny patent protection for gene sequences.
Initial searches did not find any patents for wild viruses, though there were several for newly engineered genetic materials such as synthetic virus-like particles (VLPs), methods of producing them, and vaccines produced from them.
Patent rights are not absolute. For example, many national patent laws allow researchers to use patented inventions for certain purposes related to research but not to commercial application.
My day job is in the accounting department of a local branch of a publicly traded corporation. As such we have to operate by what are known as GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and SOXS (Sarbanes/Oxley) standards and regulations. These standards and regulations do not benefit our location in any way, but are required to meet the business obligation that any publicly traded entity has to its stock holders.
Clearly a sovereign country is not a public corporation, and yet the analogy has merit in my estimation. A country has obligations to its citizens, its shareholders if you will, as well as to the wider community, in this case the rest of the world, and analogous to the stockholders that find themselves at the mercy of oversight to ensure, with best practices, the overall health of financial investments in general.
So not only do I find Indonesia's behavior offensive on a strictly personal moral level, I find it offensive and in violation of best practices for the health and wellbeing of 6.x billion world citizens, of which 250 +/- million happen to be Indonesians. That's 3.8% to the 96.2% rest of us.
The world needs Indonesian virus samples to be submitted to the governing body of such things, WHO. The world needs them because the world, all 6.x billion of its human inhabitants, risk being either direct victims of an influenza pandemic or its ancillary and tertiary effects. In order to help monitor the threat and plan mitigations, we, all 6.x billion of us, require the knowledge locked away in those virus samples to be made available to those that will further the goals of monitoring and mitigating.
As I have said any number of times before:
Indonesia: Cough up those samples! (Pun fully intended).
Attempting to frame the argument in such a way as to say that WHO already has 58 (willingly submitted) viral samples, that by your opinion it has no right to retain, thus divesting any further requirements of viral submission is intellectually bogus as well as insulting.