17 April 2011 A United Nations-backed agreement reached this weekend will help ensure that influenza virus samples will be shared during a pandemic with partners who need the information to take steps to protect public health.
The framework includes binding legal regimes for the UN World Health Organization (WHO), national influenza laboratories and industry partners in both developed and developing countries that will strengthen how the world responds more effectively with the next flu pandemic.
“By making sure that the roles and obligations among key players are better established than in the past -- including through the use of contracts -- the framework will help increase and expedite access to essential vaccines, antivirals and diagnostic kits, especially for lower-income countries,” WHO stated in a news release.
The accord was finalized yesterday by an open-ended working group which was coordinated by WHO and included WHO member States, industry representatives, civil society and other organizations involved in influenza pandemic preparedness. It will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May for approval.
“This has been a long journey to come to this agreement, but the end result is a very significant victory for public health,” says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “It has reinforced my belief that global health in the 21st century hinges on bringing governments and key stakeholders like civil society and industry together to find solutions.”
It is critical to know the exact makeup of the virus during an influenza outbreak for monitoring the spread of the disease, for knowing the potential of the virus to cause a pandemic and for creating the life-saving vaccines as well as other technological benefits, according to WHO.
Developing countries, however, often have limited access to these vaccines because they often do not have their own manufacturing capacity, the vaccines are too expensive or global supplies are limited due to a surge in demand.
The new framework will address these issues by helping to ensure more equitable access to affordable vaccines, while also guaranteeing the flow of virus samples into the WHO system so that the critical information and analyses needed to assess public health risks and develop vaccines are available.
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