Cover Your Beak When You Cough…

… or buy Baxter Healthcare stock. It’s your choice.

The past week European new outlets have been highlighting the story of the H5N1 outbreak on a turkey farm in Suffolk. From the AP story as relayed by the San Francisco Chronicle,

Officials confirmed Saturday that the H5N1 strain of bird flu had been found in turkeys on a commercial farm — Britain’s first mass outbreak of the disease that has ravaged Asia’s poultry stocks and killed more than 160 people worldwide.

The virus strain that killed about 2,500 turkeys on the British poultry farm was identified as the highly pathogenic Asian strain, similar to a virus found in Hungary in January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

It was the first time the deadly H5N1 strain was found on a British farm.

This untimely demise of 2,500 turkey led to the even untimely-er demise of the other159,000 turkeys at the protein factory farm ranch. Turkeys which had been slated for the dinner table are now considered a major bio-hazard problem.

Of course officially there was no major health threat to the British population because the risk of bird flu spreading isn’t something to panic about. It’s not like having blinking Moonites plastered about a major city and more importantly plastered about major cable news organisations. That’s when you have to really start panicking. Right?

Not so fast, you might reconsider that.

You see, one of the major areas hit by the H5N1 virus is Indonesia. Up until the beginning of this year, they had shared samples of infected tissues with researchers across the globe. That was until an American company saw cash in them thar samples. From the International Herald Tribune,

Indonesia Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S. drug manufacturer Baxter Healthcare Corp. to develop a human bird flu vaccine.

Under the agreement, Indonesia will provide H5N1 virus samples in exchange for Baxter’s expertise in vaccine production. Other organizations would have access to Indonesian samples provided they agree not to use the viruses for “commercial” purposes, said Siti Fadilah Supari, Indonesia’s health minister.

But that is a major departure from the World Health Organization’s existing virus-sharing system, where bird flu viruses are freely shared with the global community for public health purposes, including vaccine and antiviral development. Indonesia has not shared any viruses since the beginning of 2007.

Isn’t that special?

Of course there are two sides to the story. The article continues with,

Indonesia defended its decision, arguing the system works against poor countries. “The specimens we send to WHO…are then used by vaccine makers who then sell to us (at a profit),” Supari told reporters Wednesday. “This is unfair, we have the virus, we are getting sick, and then they take the virus from WHO — ‘with WHO’s permission’ they say — and make it themselves,” said Supari.

But somehow I suspect that, no matter who makes a possible vaccine, Mr Supari would be able to afford it. It is doubtful that a large portion of the Indonesian population would be similarly protected, Baxter or no Baxter.

The nice thing is that if Indonesia decides to stick with this decision, other countries will probably follow suit. This would allow cash strapped third world politicians countries to fill up their coffers with much needed funds. At the same time a pharma company might be getting an amazing gold mine.

It’s a globalization win-win; a humanitarian lose-lose.

Say goodbye to the WHO’s flu-sharing network. Say hello to Baxter’s Best Flu Shots.

And please cover your beak when you cough.


2 comments so far

  1. ggwfung on

    looks like a perpetual alert thing now. Avian flu has penetrated into all sorts of remote flocks, and with seasonal migration, the virus is in constant mutation.

    Looks like we’ll just have to live with it – a new meaning to “cold war” 🙂


  2. blc303 on

    Actually, it’s more like a war of words.

    While the avian flu virus is dangerous, there are any number of pathogens that could mutate and start killing people.

    For the latest in flu stuff, I’d suggest either the FluWiki or the FluWikiForum.

    But there are other bacteria and beasties that have me more worried. Like tuberculosis. A Total of 166 deaths have been connected to H5N1 since 2003. Compare that to 662 deaths due to TB in the US alone for 2005.

    And TB is becoming more and more resistant to the standard antibiotics used to treat it. And then there are the Acinetobacter infections…

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