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Health And Money Have The Potential To Collide

Health And Money Have The Potential To Collide In Asian Flu Crisis University Of Otago Lecturer Says

International biotech companies which hold patents to techniques and processes that are crucial to the production of vaccines could have the upper hand in the battle against the Avian flu crisis.

James Kalmakoff, Associate Professor at the University of Otago’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, says in the face of future pandemics “we could well be fighting with lawyers over patent rights.”

By contrast, the solution to the SARS outbreak was primarily lo-tech.

“SARS was about containment, isolation, focusing on such basis issues as washing hands,” Professor Kalmakoff says. “But the Avian influenza is a different matter as the virus is in birds, in their feathers, in their faeces, in the mud. Containment requires vaccinated trained workers in rubber suits with respirators, an unlikely scenario given the poor countries in which the outbreak has started.”

The World Health Organisation is leading the race to develop a vaccine for Avian flu. However, as this process progresses, the issue of patents arises. That’s because biotech companies have bought up the rights to so much of the latest biomedical research – research that’s vital in the production of badly-needed vaccines.

“It sets up a worrying scenario where corporate interests are pitted against the health needs of the world’s poor. If every time we deal with a health crisis we run the risk of being effectively held to financial ransom, of having solutions delayed by legal wrangling over rights, of not having access to the latest medical discoveries, then the world is being placed at great risk,” says Professor Kalmakoff.

Note-to-editors Professor Kalmakoff specialises in investigating the potential of microbial agents for biological control of insect pests.

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