Pandemic Call to Action: No Nation Can Go It Alone

IT has been a few days since I posted, but I have not been sitting idle. Since my last entry I have been in Panama where I visited a new school the United States is helping Central American countries to develop which will train health workers.

The group I visited was in the midst of multi week training on pandemic surveillance. There were 60 students from a total of six countries; most from small communities in rural areas of Central America. Once they complete the course, they are to organize pandemic exercises. It was inspiring and reassuring to see our work in these areas is beginning to work.

Then this week we had the Pandemic Flu Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. We had community leaders from civic, faith, school and other sectors gathered. By all accounts the attendees felt great about it.

For several days now I have wanted to post my thoughts about an experience I had a couple of weeks ago. We all know a pandemic influenza virus can emerge anywhere in the world. For nearly 50 years, countries around the world have shared flu virus samples freely and openly under an arrangement managed by the World Health Organization. This practice has allowed scientists in authorized labs to track mutations, and, subsequently, vaccines have been made to match those strains.

At the World Health Assembly in Geneva last month [May 2007], several nations made clear they intend to challenge this time-honored system by refusing to share virus samples, unless they receive specific benefits. In essence, they argue, a virus gathered in their countries is, effectively, “intellectual property.” This is short-sighted, and a serious unsettling of an international system that works and has served the world well for five decades.

If a person from one country contracts a virus, then travels to another country, where he or she falls ill and infects a second person from whom the virus is isolated, would the first country still claim "rights" to the virus? Would the patients themselves?

The logic used in advancing this position carries other consequences. For example, if a virus is property, with attendant rights, does that mean a country should be held liable for damages caused by the spreading of the disease?

We continue to call on countries everywhere to share influenza samples openly and rapidly, without preconditions. No nation can go it alone, and we stand ready to help. All nations benefit and all nations have a responsibility to participate fully in the Global Influenza Surveillance Network and to work toward universal implementation of the International Health Regulations.

I noticed in the media this week reports that GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis are both donating pre-pandemic influenza vaccine to WHO. Novartis AG also announced approval of the first flu vaccine to use cell lines rather than traditional chicken eggs. Both of these achievements are the result of technology the United States (and others) has been funding to create cell based methods along with adjuvant technology. We are investing billions to achieve this and the world is benefiting!

When it comes to pandemic influenza, every nation benefits from transparency and cooperation without precondition.

SOURCE:, June 29, 2007

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