Bird Flu :: Agreement reached on influenza bird flu virus sharing

The World Health Assembly (WHA), the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), wrapped-up its sixtieth session, reaching last-minute agreement on two key resolutions on Pandemic influenza preparedness and Public health, innovation and intellectual property.

More than 2400 people from WHO’s 193 Member States, nongovernmental organizations and other observers attended the meeting which took place from 14-23 May.

The Assembly approved the largest-ever budget for the Organization and adopted a record number of resolutions on public health issues and on the technical and administrative work of WHO.

Member States agreed a resolution which will help all countries better prepare for the global public health threat which an influenza pandemic presents. The resolution, “Sharing of Influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits,” restates the general principles of the necessity of sharing both in the preparations for an influenza pandemic and the benefits that will flow from improved international cooperation and preparation, such as greater quantities of and equitable access to H5N1 and pandemic vaccines.

In her closing remarks, the Director-General Dr Margaret Chan told the delegates, “All countries need to be aware of their obligations under the revised International Health Regulations. When collective security is at stake, public opinion can carry great weight. After very considerable discussion, you have adopted a resolution on the sharing of influenza viruses and access to pandemic vaccines and other benefits. I want to underscore the importance of this decision. My responsibilities in implementing the IHR depend on this sharing.”

The resolution requests WHO to establish an international stockpile of vaccines for H5N1 or other influenza viruses of pandemic potential, and to formulate mechanisms and guidelines aimed at ensuring fair and equitable distribution of pandemic-influenza vaccines at affordable prices in the event of a pandemic.

It also tasks an interdisciplinary working group with drawing up new Terms of Reference (TORs) for the WHO Influenza Collaborating Centre Network, and its H5 reference laboratories, for the sharing of influenza viruses. The new TORs will take into account the origin of influenza viruses going into the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance Network, and will make their use more transparent. Once finalized, these TORs will be submitted to a special Intergovernmental Meeting of WHO Member States and regional economic organizations.

The Assembly reached a last-minute agreement on public health, innovation and intellectual property. The resolution expressed appreciation to the Director-General for her commitment to the process of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the issue and encouraged her to guide the process to draw up a global strategy and plan of action. The resolution also requested the Director-General to provide technical and policy support to countries.

Dr Chan said, “I am fully committed to this process and have noted your desire to move forward faster … We must make a tremendous effort. We know our incentive: the prevention of large numbers of needless deaths and suffering.”

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