Health Officials Still Wary of Flu Pandemic After spending billions to prepare for a bird-flu pandemic, world health officials are in a holding pattern. But there are signs that the bird-flu virus is spreading in parts of the world. Authorities are now focusing on whether Indonesia — the most-affected nation — should share samples of the bird-flu virus with scientists and drugmakers from richer countries.
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Health Officials Still Wary of Flu Pandemic

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Health Officials Still Wary of Flu Pandemic

Health Officials Still Wary of Flu Pandemic

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And a dispute between rich and poor nations is blocking a vital effort to do that. NPR's Richard Knox reports.

RICHARD KNOX: Does that mean the world is moving closer to a pandemic? It depends on who you ask. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the U.S. government's top flu researcher.

ANTHONY FAUCI: There are those who say it's been around for 10 years and it hasn't happened yet. Therefore that just proves how difficult it is for it to happen. Then there's another school of thought that says, hey, you know, it hasn't happened, but why should we keep giving it the chance to happen?

KNOX: Here's David Nabarro, the United Nations chief flu coordinator, at a meeting in Washington this month.

DAVID NABARRO: We've got a bit of a plateauing. The number of human cases, which act as a sentinel, has slightly decreased. Human deaths have also decreased. There's a suggestion that the situation is not quite so serious.

KNOX: New international health regulations require countries to share samples of flu viruses. But Indonesia has refused to share new specimens of H5N1 as they arise. Dr. David Heymann is WHO's chief flu strategist.

DAVID HEYMANN: Well, Indonesia has shared about five different specimens or samples this year and from those specimens, one of them produced a virus.

KNOX: Heymann says the problem arose a year ago, when Indonesia's president asked the health minister to develop a stockpile of flu vaccine produced from an Indonesian strain of H5N1.

HEYMANN: When the minister went to procure that vaccine, she found that the price that was being asked of her was the same price that was being asked in industrialized countries. And she felt that this was an injustice.

KNOX: Nabarro says they worry that when a pandemic comes, the rich countries will say...

NABARRO: Sorry, we need all the spare vaccine that's around the place for our people. We're going to have very little to spare for you poorer countries.

KNOX: Richard Knox, NPR News.

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