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Key players agree to share viruses and vaccines to expedite response to future pandemic influenza

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d2620 (Published 20 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2620
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1Geneva

Influenza virus samples will be shared worldwide through the World Health Organization system in exchange for a fairer distribution of the benefits, including vaccines to poorer countries, under a new global accord to improve pandemic preparedness agreed in Geneva on 16 April.

Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general called the agreement “a very significant victory for public health.”

Bente Angell-Hansen, Norway’s ambassador who co-chaired the WHO sponsored talks with Mexico’s ambassador, told the BMJ “The world needed an improved system in this area.”

The pandemic influenza preparedness framework includes binding legal regimes for WHO, national influenza laboratories around the world, and industry partners in rich and poor countries to boost global public health capacities to respond more effectively in a future flu pandemic.

Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo, Brazil’s ambassador, said, “It’s a breakthrough agreement. It’s something historic, and sets a very important precedent for WHO.”

The framework includes terms to improve the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System. It stipulates that influenza vaccine, diagnostic, and drug manufacturers who use the system must make an annual contribution equivalent to half the running costs, beginning in 2012. In 2010 the system cost about $56.5m (£34.5m; €39m).

During the talks, launched in 2007 after the emergence in Asia of human strain cases of the avian A/H5N1 bird flu, developing countries argued there was need for a more equitable system, and stressed that poor countries sharing viruses should also share in the resulting benefits.

Sangeeta Shashikant, legal adviser with Third World Network, an international network of development agencies, said the agreement requires industry for the first time to make a monetary contribution and to share other benefits.

However, it does not go far enough, she said, to secure from industry a reasonable level of benefits needed by poor countries to prepare for a pandemic.

Rich countries—particularly the US—worked “to dilute the benefit sharing obligations and to protect their industries, their profits and their intellectual property,” said Ms Shashikant.

Many drug and vaccine manufacturers from rich and developing countries, including Baxter, MedImmune/AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Biologicals, and the Serum Institute of India, were consulted during the talks.

Mr Angell-Hansen said big companies like GSK, Sanofi-Pasteur, and Novartis, “have committed not only to give donations, but security in commitments.”

The agreement provides industry with the option of making contributions to either WHO or poor countries through donations in vaccines, antivirals, or intellectual property rights so that poor countries can produce their own vaccines, adjuvants, antivirals, and diagnostic products.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said members had made a commitment to reserve at least 10% of pandemic vaccine and of antiviral manufacturing capacity for donations to WHO and/or supply at affordable (tiered) prices to developing countries.

Ms Sangeeta said the contributions by industry, however, are “far too low” as the revenues they obtain from the sales of influenza vaccines have amounted to billions of dollars.

The agreement, expected to be adopted by ministers during the next World Health Assembly in May, also calls for WHO to establish a stockpile of vaccines for H5N1, and other influenza viruses with human pandemic potential.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2620

Footnotes

  • The pandemic influenza preparedness framework for the sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits is at www.who.int.

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