Pharma Patents And Why Indonesia Is Hoarding Bird Flu Samples

from the this-isn't-good-for-health dept

We've pointed to plenty of examples concerning how pharmaceutical patents actually do more to hold back life-saving cures, and here's another example. It's actually a continuation of a story we wrote about a year and a half ago, about Indonesia's decision to stop supplying bird flu samples to the World Health Organization, claiming it was worried that a big pharma would patent a drug based off of it, and Indonesia wouldn't receive any of the benefit. The country has something of a point: as pharma companies have made various cures incredibly expensive in the past.

However, Indonesia is now taking this a step further, claiming "viral sovereignty" over the bird flu. In other words, it's claiming that since the virus samples are found in the country, Indonesia owns the virus -- and it's fighting pretty much every attempt by others to do anything with the virus, sometimes using questionable claims such as one about how a US medical research facility is trying to use the virus not to create a cure, but to create biological weapons. It's basing this claim of "viral sovereignty" on the same ridiculous patent rules that allow a country to claim "ownership" and patents over indigenous plants.

While there's obviously a huge political component to this dispute, at the heart of the trouble is this idea of "ownership" of something like a plant, virus or drug -- and that's an idea that the US has been a huge supporter of, so it can hardly complain about Indonesia taking it to the logical conclusion. And, of course, that logical conclusion is the exact opposite of what supporters of pharma patents insist the system is designed to encourage. That is, thanks to this hoarding and claims of ownership, not nearly enough research is being done to try to create vaccines for bird flu. And, to make this even worse, it appears other countries are starting to consider "viral sovereignty," as well -- meaning that research into curing various diseases may grind to halt while various countries argue over who owns what.

Filed Under: flu, indonesia, patents, viral sovereignty, virus, who


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  1. identicon
    mobiGeek, 29 Aug 2008 @ 8:49am

    Re:

    But unlike other resources, they are claiming "IP" over the natural resource.

    This is not the same thing whatsoever. Yes, they can collect the samples and sell them, that's completely appropriate.

    No other country that has/sells natural resources goes around claiming patents on the DNS of their trees/minerals/metals/etc... (Well, there is Monsanto I guess...)


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