WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan called the agreement "a very significant victory for public health."

WHO Members Agree to Share Flu Virus Samples

Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan hailed the agreement reached last weekend as paving the way for effective response during future influenza pandemics.

A week of final negotiations that continued into last weekend resulting in an agreement by World Health Organization member states to share influenza virus samples during a pandemic so they can collectively protect public health. WHO announced the agreement April 17, with Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan calling it "a very significant victory for public health. It has reinforced my belief," she added, "that global health in the 21st Century hinges on bringing governments and key stakeholders like civil society and industry together to find solutions."

The agreement spells out the roles and responsibilities of WHO, national laboratories, and manufacturers of vaccines and pharmaceuticals. It applies to sharing H5N1 and other influenza viruses with human pandemic potential but does not apply to seasonal influenza viruses or other non-influenza pathogens or biological substances.

"The framework provides a much more coherent and unified global approach for ensuring that influenza viruses are available to the WHO system for monitoring and development of critical benefits, such as vaccines, antiviral drugs, and scientific information, while at the same time ensuring more equitable access to these benefits by developing countries," said Dr Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of Health Security and Environment at WHO. Developing countries often lack the manufacturing capacity or money to order large stocks of vaccines, according to the agency. The framework document cites "the continuing risk of an influenza pandemic with potentially devastating health, economic and social impacts, particularly for developing countries which suffer a higher disease burden and are more vulnerable."

The agreement will be presented to the World Health Assembly next month for its consideration and approval. Negotiations by 193 WHO member states actually began in November 2007 as avian H5N1 influenza was spreading in southeast Asia.

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