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Bush Proposes International Partnership on Avian Influenza

Recombinomics Commentary

September 14, 2005

But the WHO has repeatedly raised concern that researchers may be jealously holding on to these samples, possibly in the quest for glory if they unlock secrets about the virus.

Another problem is that authoritarian countries may bar researchers from disclosing or handing over the samples, fearful that this will cause a damaging health scare.

This leaves the WHO with the alternative of raising a media outcry, or prompting political pressure from neighbouring countries, to try to get the samples shared.

Thus sample sharing at present is voluntary, and Bush's plan -- details of which remain sketchy -- would appear to make it mandatory.

WHO spoksman Iain Simpson said the agency "absolutely" endorsed Bush's objectives, but said he awaited further information as to how countries could be required to share the precious samples.

The United States deserves high marks for taking the lead on a unified approach for combating bird flu and increasing transparency.  Although details of the plan are sketchy, a program offering support for the collection of samples and sharing of data would go a long way towards improving the health of the world.

Pandemic influenza is a worldwide concern and a unified effort with adequate funding would go a long way toward identifying outbreaks early and collecting sequence data.  The NIAID has already initiated a program offering free sequencing of influenza samples and has significantly ramped up full sequencing abilities.

This effort can be enhanced by increased surveillance of both animal and human populations.  The US has the technology to enhance detection and collection methods, which should be offered to participating countries.  The added technical abilities would be at modest cost and could greatly enhance surveillance, which is currently scandalously poor, especially in countries with limited budgets and endemic H5N1 bird flu.

This plan would be significantly enhanced by rapid implementation of enforcement measures which have already been approved.  Time is of the essence and the US plan deserves the attention of UN member nations and rapid deployment.

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