15 November 2007
Joint NGO Statement on Influenza Virus Sharing
As you may know the issue of sharing of avian flu virus and sharing
of benefits from the use of virus (especially access to affordable vaccines)
has been a very hot issue especially at the World Health Assembly (WHA)
The WHA mandated that an inter-governmental meeting (all countries invited
to attend) be held to discuss a reform of the whole global influenza
network system (now operating under WHO). It will meet in Geneva on 20-23 November.
Several developing countries have been sharing influenza viruses particularly
H5N1 viruses with some WHO designated labs based in US, Aust. UK, and Japan. These viruses were shared outside
the network with companies for the development of vaccines, without
permission from the originating country, in violation of WHO's own 2005
guidance that does not allow the sharing of viruses outside the network
unless with the permission of the country providing the viruses. Several
of these viruses are used in vaccines which are sold at high prices
to developing countries which definitely cannot afford these vaccines.
These limited vaccines are also patented by companies and stockpiled
by several developed countries in preparation for a pandemic.
As a result, several developing countries have slowed the sharing of
influenza viruses. A draft resolution was presented at the WHA by over
20 countries leading to Resolution WHA 60.28. [For more background information
and news please see
Some developing countries are now considering what should be proposed
in terms of establishing a system which will give public health benefits
such as vaccines, technology transfer so that poorer countries can also
produce their own vaccines, stockpile of pandemic influenza vaccines
Below is a draft of a joint CSO statement. We urge you to read it and
if you agree with it, please sign on to it. We will then convey the
statement to the media as well as to the delegations that are coming
to the meeting on 20-23 Nov.
Please send your response to Sangeeta of TWN at her email address –
Please also send this on to other groups that you think may be interested.
With best wishes,
Third World Network
JOINT CIVIL SOCIETY STATEMENT
WHO Meeting on Influenza Virus Sharing and Benefit Sharing Should Establish
New Framework To Ensure Developing Countries’ Access to Influenza Vaccines
We the civil society organisations listed below are concerned about
the present imbalanced system on influenza in which countries are asked
to contribute viruses to the WHO global influenza system but in which
the developing countries are not assured they can have access to vaccines
and other health products required to deal with the problem of influenza.
In particular we are concerned that: (1) many patent applications have
been filed for influenza viruses or their parts and vaccines (and methods
to produce them), which can increase the problems of access to vaccines
for developing countries; and (2) in the event of a breakout of pandemic
influenza (which experts fear has the potential to cause many millions
of deaths) there is no assurance that countries in greatest need will
have access to vaccines or treatment due to high prices and lack of
supplies especially in developing countries.
We are encouraged that the World Health Assembly in its May 2007 session
decided to deal with these problems by establishing an inter-governmental
meeting to discuss the sharing of viruses and the sharing of benefits.
We call on Member States of the World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting
at the Intergovernmental Meeting in Geneva on 20-23rd November to establish
a fair and equitable framework that ensures that developing countries
have timely access to adequate and affordable vaccines, diagnostics
and other medical products, and that they have immediate access to all
the tools and knowledge needed for local production of vaccines and
anti-virals, which are required for them to prepare for a possible pandemic.
The framework must not put commercial interests and profits before public
health and must ensure that developing countries’ needs and interests
are reflected and prioritized.
The framework must also prevent the misappropriation of biological resources.
For a long time, countries have been contributing influenza viruses
to laboratories from developed countries designated by WHO, which then
in turn pass on the viruses and/or parts of it contained in vaccine
seed viruses to companies without the permission of the contributing
country, in violation of the WHO March 2005 Guidance.
In fact, several companies/institutions including a WHO designated laboratory
are seeking patents on viruses, parts of the viruses and on products
derived from the influenza viruses such as vaccines. These companies
and institutions see this as an occasion to obtain patents and extra
profits, and there has been a rapid increase in patenting activity related
to avian influenza,
Developing countries cannot afford the expensive vaccines especially
if entire or major parts of the populations have to be vaccinated.
Availability of vaccines in a timely manner and in sufficient quantities
is also a major problem in the event of a pandemic as current global
supply capacity is only at about 500 million doses, much less than potential
demand of the billions of doses needed. Thus acute shortages particularly
in the developing world are foreseen as developed countries having financial
and other resources are already booking in advance treatments including
vaccines for pre-pandemic and pandemic use.
The ability to locally and/or regionally produce adequate vaccines is
a critical element in any pandemic preparedness. However many of the
technologies and the know-how needed to develop and produce vaccines
are also either protected by proprietary rights and/or not easily accessible
to developing countries.
The current framework favours industry and the developed countries that
have the financial resources to build up stockpiles of pre-pandemic
vaccines and to purchase in advance pandemic vaccines.
According to WHO the world is presently at a phase 3 pandemic alert
(out of 6 phases) and is now closer to another influenza pandemic than
at any time since 1968.
In the event of a global pandemic, it is likely to be 'each country
for itself', with those countries that have stockpiled vaccines being
reluctant to share their stockpile of vaccines with other countries.
An international stockpile would also have limited use. Developing countries
including countries that have contributed their viruses are likely to
face an acute shortage of badly-needed vaccines and medical products.
This issue reflects current inequities in the global health system.
We call on WHO Member States to take immediate action to correct the
Our action proposals:
1. We call on WHO Member States to establish a new, fair and equitable
framework on influenza viruses and sharing of benefits arising from
the utilization of the influenza viruses.
2. The priority of the framework should be to meet public health needs,
particularly that of developing countries. The framework should:
(a) recognise the principles of national sovereignty over biological
resources, prior informed consent, and fair and equitable sharing of
benefits arising from the utilization of the viruses (and parts thereof
such as sequence data). Benefit-sharing has to be specific and mandatory
to enable adequate benefits to developing countries as the core of the
(b) ensure that institutions and companies receiving the viruses or
products containing parts of the viruses are required to adhere to ethical
and equitable conditions, including the sharing of benefits to developing
countries and to those that contribute their viruses in line with their
(c) ensure that the WHO designated laboratories, companies and other
institutions do not patent the viruses or parts thereof such as the
gene sequences and derived products (e.g. vaccines). This is especially
since the potential influenza pandemic represents an international public
health threat of major and possibly catastrophic proportions and this
requires public health needs to be given highest priority.
(d) ensure that an adequate portion of the limited global supply of
vaccines are set aside for WHO-organised international/regional stockpiles
for the use of developing countries and made available on the basis
of need and either free or at an affordable cost.
(e) Ensure that developing countries that (in addition to the supplies
in the WHO stockpile) wish to purchase vaccines should have access to
these at an affordable price;
(f) establish systems by which scarce vaccines/anti-virals can be produced,
stocked and distributed according to the principles of public health
needs (where and when they are needed) and not according to financial,
technological capacity and power (i.e. vaccines channelled to those
who can pay for them).
(g) oblige developed country governments and the private sector to share
technologies and know-how (in relation to influenza-related vaccines
and other health products) with developing countries and provide the
necessary capacity building in order to promote local/regional pharmaceutical
R and production activities in developing countries, including by not-for-profit
and public-owned organizations.
(h) Take concrete measures to build capacity in developing countries
and their regions on activities needed for influenza risk assessment
(.e.g identifying viral shift, drift or mutations) and risk response
(preparedness for influenza epidemic/pandemic including developing seed
viruses, diagnostic test kits); at present such capacity exists mostly
in developed countries.
3. Developing countries should be assisted to build the capacity of
their public health system to ensure an effective delivery of health
services in the event of a pandemic.
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