Friday, June 02, 2006

Indonesia "releases" the sequence data (sort of)

In a curious statement, Indonesia's director-general of disease control and environment at the Indonesian Ministry of Health, I. Nyoman Kandun, said his government may share the genetic sequences of the Medan cluster if it helps researchers and isn't an "opportunity for them to make money." (Bloomberg).
"We have not received any request to share it with GenBank,'' Kandun said yesterday in an interview from Jakarta. "If there was a request, and it's clear that it is in the public interest to do so, why not? I would surely recommend it to the health minister.''
WHO spokesperson Maria Cheng responded from Geneva:
"We think it's important to share this information so that everyone can have a better understanding of what's going on.''
So it's settled. Or should be.

WHO should take this as consent to deposit the sequences immediately in GenBank. Cheng is still saying WHO "can't compel countries to do things they don't want to do." But this is not the issue here. Under the revised International Health Regulations(2005), whose bird flu provisions went into effect last week (a year early), Indonesia is required to provide the information and has tacitly released it via their statement. WHO has the information. The sequencing was done by Dr. Malik Pereis in Hong Kong, at Indonesian government and WHO request.

The Indonesian Ministry of Health has a record of saying one thing and doing another (or more frequently saying one thing and doing nothing). In this case it doesn't matter. They've essentially released the sequences, subject to conditions met by Cheng's response.

Time for WHO to tell Dr. Peiris to deposit them in GenBank.