WHO group to tackle H5N1 virus-sharing dispute

first_imgNov 19, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – A World Health Organization (WHO) working group will meet in Geneva over the next 4 days to try to solve an impasse over how countries share their H5N1 avian influenza virus samples, a disagreement that pits developing countries’ demand for affordable vaccines against the global need to monitor virus changes and develop pandemic vaccines.The rift over sharing of H5N1 samples began last December when Indonesia stopped sending H5N1 isolates to the WHO as a protest against the cost of commercial vaccines developed from the strains. Indonesia has said it owns the H5N1 samples found on its soil and intends to use them to develop a vaccine to protect its own population.In May Indonesia promised to resume sending H5N1 virus samples, but it has sent only a few. The government sent three samples in May, but they did not contain any live viruses, according to previous reports. Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, recently told CIDRAP News that the last samples Indonesia sent were from patients from Bali in August.Other countries, such as China and Vietnam, have been slow to share H5N1 samples or have encountered procedural difficulties in sending them out. However, Chinese agriculture official Niu Dun said the country recently sent 23 H5N1 samples to the WHO, according to a Nov 13 report from Xinhua, China’s state news agency.At the Geneva meeting, members of the WHO’s working group on virus-sharing will continue work on resolutions to ensure equitable H5N1 vaccine access that were outlined in May at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of WHO member countries. In August the same group, composed of representatives from 23 nations, met in Singapore, where they produced three documents—two that address H5N1 sample sharing and handling and one on a virus-sharing oversight mechanism, according to a previous CIDRAP News report.David Heymann, the WHO’s assistant director-general for communicable diseases, said in the earlier report that at the November meeting the group would finalize the documents, review and debate other issues, and forward a report to the WHO executive board. The documents and other agenda items are available on the working group’s Web site.Several news developments and publications relating to the virus-sharing issue have cropped up in the past few weeks in advance of the WHO meeting.Indonesia asks the WHO to return samplesIndonesia asked the WHO to return 58 of its H5N1 samples, according to a Nov 9 article in the Jakarta Post. Health minister Siti Fadilah Supari said Indonesia needed the virus samples back because it did not have a stockpile of seed viruses needed to develop its own vaccines, the report said. Supari claimed that international regulations require source countries to give up all their samples.Supari said Indonesia asked the WHO to return the viruses in August, but had not received a response, the Post report said. “We keep asking (the WHO) to return the samples because they belong to us. This is for the sake of our country’s sovereignty,” she told the newspaper.However, Hartl told CIDRAP News that the WHO responded to a letter from Supari, but he gave no details on the response.Organization emerges as Indonesia’s adviserMeanwhile, the Canadian Press revealed yesterday that the Third World Network (TWN), a nongovernmental organization that does advocacy work for developing countries, has been advising Indonesia in its dispute with the WHO over the H5N1 samples.The organization, based in Malaysia, issued a statement on Nov 15 charging that H5N1 viruses have been shared outside the WHO network with vaccine developers without the permission of the source countries, which it says violates WHO guidance issued in 2005.”As a result, several developing countries have slowed the sharing of viruses,” the TWN said.The statement urges developing countries to sign a document that it will present at the WHO intergovernmental meeting this week. The document claims that a “WHO designated laboratory,” along with other companies and institutions, is seeking patents on viruses, parts of viruses, and products, such as vaccines, made from the H5N1 viruses countries have shared.”These companies and institutions see this as an occasion to obtain patents and extra profits, and there has been a rapid increase in patenting activity related to avian influenza,” the TWN document states.The statement urges the WHO working group to establish an equitable “framework” for distributing vaccines, diagnostics, and other medical products in the event of a pandemic. It says the framework should recognize nations’ “sovereignty” over biological resources and should obligate developed countries and the private sector to share H5N1-related technology with developing countries and provide resources to build local capacities for producing vaccine and other pandemic-related medical supplies.Are viruses really biological resources?David Fidler, an international law professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, wrote about some of the legal aspects of the virus-sharing issue in the January early online issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.Fidler wrote that Indonesia has asserted that pathogenic virus samples are covered by the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty adopted in 1992 to guide national strategies for conserving biological diversity. However, influenza viruses aren’t the kind of biological resource that the convention was meant to protect, he maintained.”These viruses invaded Indonesia; their presence and spread owes nothing to the investment, nurturing, and utilization of the Indonesian government or people,” Fidler wrote. “Rather than seeking to conserve this virus, the strategy is to contain and ultimately eradicate it.”Indonesia’s virus-sharing protest has exposed ambiguity in the 2005 International Health Regulations, which took effect in July, he wrote. Though the new regulations don’t specifically require member countries to share samples of biological materials, they recognize a country’s duty to share samples for surveillance purposes, Fidler added.Europeans worry about fallout In a briefing released in advance of the WHO meeting, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the focus on the virus-sharing issue could be taking a serious toll on the global health community.Though the issues are fundamentally important to the global health community, “a lack of resolution could deflect many key staff from other important work, such as improving global pandemic preparedness,” the ECDC said.The current virus-sharing system, though not perfect, has worked extremely well over the past several years, particularly during the SARS crisis, the ECDC said. “Care needs to be taken to ensure that further regulation does not compromise function,” the report says, adding that a requirement for material transfer agreements or permission from source countries could seriously delay the development of new vaccines.See also:WHO intergovernmental meeting on pandemic influenza preparedness Web sitehttp://www.who.int/gb/pip/Aug 9 CIDRAP News story “WHO: Indonesia’s withholding of viruses endangers world”Third World Network Web sitehttp://www.twnside.org.sg/Nov 15 TWN statement on virus-sharingFidler DP. Influenza virus samples, international law, and global health diplomacy. Emerg Infect Dis 2008 Jan;14(1) [Full text]Oct 17 CIDRAP News story “WHO report explores patent issues concerning flu viruses”last_img read more

Esports Battle League and WHAM announce partnership

first_imgScott O’Leary, Esports Battle LeagueThe Esports Battle League (EBL) and WHAM Network Inc.,have today announced a digital media partnership set to kick off in June ahead of the inaugural season of the EBL. The joint venture marks the first media deal for EBL, and moreover, the first esports distribution deal for WHAM. The EBL is an interesting one, as the league, despite not having announced the titles involved, recently announced that it had sold three franchise slots for $1 million a piece. Backed and run by Rivalcade, the league willconsist of a number of geo-located franchised spots across North America.If you know your US geography, you can check these out in full here. The confirmed franchise slots are Elevate in Denver, Circa in Miami and Simplicity in Las Vegas. The WHAM Network is partnered with content distributor Cinedigm. According to the press release, WHAM’s distribution will ‘include participation on embedded, mobile, and connected device platforms across the world, with programming and content focusing on the lifestyle and culture of gaming on a global basis’. Outside of just North America, WHAM will also be rolling out in East Asia as part of Cinedigm’s reciprocal distribution partnership with China.The EBL was co-founded by Scott O’Leary, and has some considerable traditional sports involvement too with former National Lacrosse League Commissioner George Daniel, and former NBA Players Association Chief Counsel Bob Lanza making up the founding trio. The EBL features head-to-head team matches in a best-of-three format. It’ll pit teams against each other in ‘a variety of popular genre-spanning titles’. The EBL expects to field eight to ten teams in the upcoming season, each competing in a traditional league format with the team that has the best two out of three scores advancing in the competition.  Scott O’Leary, EBL Co-founder and CEO commented: “The number of people involved in the lifestyle and culture of gaming is expanding at an exponential rate, with yearly revenue growth projecting it to be a 1.5 billion dollar business by 2020. As such, we are very excited to become a lasting part of this flourishing community with the launch of our initial season. “We look forward to streaming intense esports matches paired with exclusive shoulder content that includes in-depth player interviews, gameplay analysis, and specials highlighting the road to the championship each widely distributed across the extensive WHAM Network, which is dedicated to creating and distributing quality content in this space.”“We love the EBL vision,” noted Gary Kleinman, WHAM Founder. “Their integration of esports and lifestyle content is a perfect fit for WHAM. The EBL represents a truly fresh and different perspective on franchise esports competition.”Esports Insider says: So we’re still none the wiser as to which games will form a part of the inaugural Esports Battle League. But even so the league has managed to secure an interesting sounding partnership with the WHAM Network. We’re certainly intrigued to find out which ‘popular genre spanning titles’ are chosen, and we assume we’ll be in the know sooner rather than later.last_img read more