The World Health Organization announced recently that they have failed to reach an agreement on sharing H5N1 avian influenza virus samples. Indonesia has the most fatalities from avian influenza and wants guarantees from pharmaceutical companies that they will have access to inexpensive vaccines if they share virus samples. (Reuters UK) It is essential to have the latest strain of the H5N1 virus in case it mutates to a form that is easily transmissible from person to person or develops drug resistance.
Indonesia wants intellectual property rights to virus samples to ensure that if the virus is used commercially for vaccine development, their citizens will have access to affordable vaccine. At the same time, vaccine development is expensive and pharmaceutical companies need some protection.
This is a problem that requires a rapid solution rather than a cold war between Indonesia and the vaccine producing nations. There is too much at stake.