Indonesia agrees to hand bird flu information to new online database

Indonesia's health minister said Thursday she would start sharing all genetic information about her country's bird flu virus with a new global database, to monitor whether the disease is mutating into a dangerous pandemic strain. China, Russia and other nations that have long withheld influenza virus samples and DNA sequencing data from international databases are also taking part in the initiative, saying it offers full transparency and, for the first time, basic protection of intellectual property rights. Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari became an unlikely hero in the bird flu fight when in January 2007 she decided to buck the WHO's 50-year-old virus sharing system, which obliged member countries to submit bird flu samples and data to the global body, saying it was unfair to developing countries. She was worried pharmaceutical companies would use Indonesia's virus strains to develop costly vaccines that would ultimately be inaccessible to her own people. Even the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, acknowledged she had a point.