WHO group on virus sharing hopes to reach agreement this week

The leaders from a World Health Organization working group on virus sharing and vaccine issues related to pandemic preparedness said Tuesday that they hope to reach an agreement by Friday.  

The group has set this deadline so that it can go to the World Health Assembly for a vote in May.

If the WHO adopts the framework, it would serve as a model for pandemic virus-sharing and vaccine issues for the next five years.

Ambassadors Juan Jose Gomez-Camacho from Mexico and Bente Angell-Hansen from Norway briefed reporters in Geneva, where the working group is meeting in an effort to finish the first draft of the agreement, CIDRAP News reports.

In late 2006, Indonesia broke a long tradition of free international sharing of flu virus specimens by withholding its H5N1 virus samples as a protest against the high cost of commercial vaccines derived from the samples.

This controversy has drawn attention to the problem of the equitability of distributing vaccines during a pandemic. The working group was appointed by the WHO in 2007 to hammer out an agreement, though progress has been stalled by problems like mechanisms for sharing the viruses, intellectual property rights and ensuring benefits for developing countries.

"These meetings are taking place within the context of complex negotiations," Gomez-Camacho said, according to CIDRAP News. "We hope to wrap up the package by Friday in our last round of negotiations.”