Fri Dec 19, 2008 11:06pm EST
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia believes progress has been made toward agreeing a new global mechanism to share bird flu samples, although details need to be thrashed out before it will end its boycott, the country's health minister said.
Indonesia drew international concern when it stopped virus-sharing last year, saying it wanted guarantees from rich nations and drugmakers that poor nations would get access to affordable vaccines derived from their samples.
Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari told Reuters late on Friday that the action had helped drive home an understanding of the issues.
"Stopping the virus is to say that I have a strong will to make a new world health mechanism," said the minister, who is known to be outspoken on the bird flu issue.
"This system is not fair. If the injustice is in the economic system, the impact is poverty, but if the injustice is found in the world health management, then the victim is human lives," she added in an interview at her central Jakarta offices.
The minister's comments came amid a seasonal flare up in cases of bird flu globally, including in populous India.
International health experts say it is vital to have access to samples of the constantly mutating H5N1 virus, which they fear could change into a form easily transmissible among humans and sweep the world in months, killing millions of people.
Talks on virus sharing hosted by the WHO last year failed to reach an agreement after Indonesia had insisted on a "material transfer agreement" for each virus sample sent to foreign labs.
But Supari said a meeting of more than 100 countries last week in Geneva had made some breakthroughs including that benefit sharing would be integrated into material transfer agreements.
The minister said she hoped Indonesia could return to virus sharing "as soon as possible" but details still had to be pinned down, including on what benefits richer countries might provide.
Indonesia's negotiator in Geneva Widjaja Lukito said in a statement that benefits could include access to vaccines, vaccine stockpiles, transfer of technology and tiered pricing.
Supari also said that an agreement had been reached on a tracking system to monitor use of the virus samples.
"We have the rights to follow, track where our virus goes. In the old system, if you send your virus you don't know where the virus goes," she said.
Indonesia has suffered 113 known deaths from bird flu infections since 2003, the highest of any country, according to World Health Organization data.
(Editing by David Fox)