US health official: Indonesia endangering world by not sharing bird flu samples

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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HANOI, Vietnam - The world is less safe because Indonesia is withholding samples of the bird flu virus from the international community, the top U.S. health official said Wednesday, adding that he is hopeful the issue can be resolved soon.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told The Associated Press that Indonesia's refusal to co-operate with the World Health Organization's long-standing virus-sharing system without compensation is disappointing.
"If Indonesia decides to not be part of the world community and the international mainstream on this for a time, that would be regrettable," he said. "The world will be slightly less safe, but at some point we have to move onto finding other ways to make the world safe."
Leavitt, on a Southeast Asian trip this week to promote food safety, met with Indonesia's president and health minister in Jakarta before making stops in Singapore and Vietnam. Indonesia has withheld nearly all of its bird flu samples from WHO since January 2007, arguing that poor countries should retain the rights to any vaccines made from their viruses.
Leavitt said both sides agreed to work toward finding a solution within the next two months. Otherwise, the U.S. will move on and concentrate its efforts elsewhere, he said.
The H5N1 bird flu virus began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. It remains hard for people to catch, but 107 people have died in Indonesia, nearly half the 240 recorded human deaths worldwide, according to WHO.
Scientists say it is crucial to receive fresh bird flu specimens to ensure the virus is not mutating into a form that could easily spread among people, potentially sparking a pandemic that might kill millions worldwide.

Organizations: World Health Organization, U.S. Health and Human Services, The Associated Press

Geographic location: Indonesia, U.S., Vietnam HANOI Jakarta Singapore

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