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May 23, 2015
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Current Concerns  >  2009  >  No 7/8, 2009  >  Indonesian Minister of Health Demands Dignity, Equality and Transparency for all Countries in the World [printversion]

Indonesian Minister of Health Demands Dignity, Equality and Transparency for all Countries in the World

by Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller and Stefan Keller

In her book, Siti Fatilah Supari describes her fight against the WHO and the neo-colonial efforts to deprive her country – as well as all other developing countries – of their sovereignty, their rights and their dignity. She accuses the rich industrial countries to treat the developing countries unequally and calls for transparency with respect to the passing on and processing of viruses.

Avian Flu in Indonesia
Indonesia was hit the hardest by the avian flu epidemic. Since 2005 avian flu has become a serious health problem. Meanwhile there are 141 confirmed cases of avian flu in humans. 115 of the affected have died up to now.

She describes how the Indonesian government and the Indonesian society carefully handled the consequences of the avian flu in their own country and how they undertook the necessary steps to stop its spreading.

Untiring efforts in fighting the unequal treatment of developing countries

As the Minister of Health of her country she at first precisely abided by the WHO-regulations on handling the avian flu. Thereby she noticed the rich countries gross unequal treatment of the developing countries’, which becomes obvious in the following examples:
The WHO requested the Indonesian Government to provide for a sufficient quantity of the substance Tamiflu for virus inhibition. It took a great effort to come up with the necessary sum of money. But still she could not acquire the medicine since the provisions had been completely bought up by the rich countries using them  as their reserves. (90 percent of the vaccine trade is handled by 10 percent of the world population)

Indonesia with its populatin of about 237,5 million is the fourth largest country with regard to its population. It comprises 13,000 to 17,000 islands, 33 provinces, 21 of them were affected by the avian flu.
Poultry is Indonesia’s most important meat supplier. According to FAO (18 March 2008) 20 percent of the poultry population (14 million) are distributed on over 30 million backyards. That is why the situation is critical even today. Since the outbreak of the avian flu in 2005 more than 9,5 million poultry (ducks, geese, chilcken, quail) had to be killed.

These experiences led her to the conclusion that her country had to stand on its own feet. In the introduction of her book she wrote: “The case of avian influenza furthermore needs our firm commitment to always keep the Sovereignty of the Nation and the Republic of Indonesia. And beyond the acknowledgment of the majority of of people, the WHO Collaborating Centers (WHO-CCs), in fact, has been forwarding the samples of Indonesian strain (and other strains) of avian influenza viruses to companies in the developed countries. The latter are in turn developping the viruses into vaccines, but then sell them commercially and expensively, also to the poor and the developing countries affected by the viruses.” (authors note, p. xi)

Indonesian initiative against the western research monopoly

By tenacious efforts she finally succeeded to initiate a process of restructuring, aiming at more equality, fair treatment of all countries and more transparency. Because of her initiative other poor countries and developing countries summoned the courage to join the Indonesian initiative. “In expectation for healthier and more equitable world, all the countries have been in an agreement that there will be no more exploitation of one nation by others (exploitation de l’homme par l’homme) in the health aspect of the world. There will be no more system of diclaiming the right for the viruses from the poor countries affected by the pandemic, and then raising capital through deliberately commercializing the vaccines developed from the viruses, including to the poor and the developing countries.” (p. xii)
She goes on: “The world knows that this is not a matter of win or loss in the arena of diplomacy. The fight against avian influenza is the fight to sustain the authentic humanity. The bet in this fight is that we can loose our lives in the pandemic, but the eradication of human race is ensured by the greediness and the mismanagement of the system of world health.” (p. xxi)
When it turned out that the Indonesian avian flu virus was a particularly aggressive specimen, Dr Supari became aware of a certain mechanism: Her country was made to hand over the virus to the Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN); they would pass it on to the WHO Collaboration Centers (WHO-CCs); that would produce a seed virus and vaccines in one of their laboratories  and then sell the vaccine expensively to the rich countries. WHO-CCs are laboratories that co-operate with the WHO and who are acknowledged as reference laboratories by Australia, Japan, Great Britain and the USA.
When renouncing the virus the country loses any title and the virus disappears in a “black hole”. In the case of a pandemic those countries that made the virus available would have to queue, together with other poor countries, since the rich countries were treated preferentially. That exactly had been Vietnam’s fate. After having sent its virus to the WHO-CCs Vietnam never again heard anything about what had happened with its viruses.
“Since 1952, 110 countries in the world that had had cases of common influenza (seasonal flu) have had an obligation to share the virus specimen willingly, without any encumbrance. The viruses accepted by the GISN were called wild viruses and the sample became the property of the GISN. The experts processed it for the purpose of risk assessment and research. But part of the sample was also developed into seed viruses. And it was the very seed viruses that later could be developed into vaccine. The problem for me was, after it went into commercial production, the vaccines were distributed globally, including to the affected countries who owned the wild viruses, with price which only determined by the developers, most of whom belong to the industrial and rich countries. And of course, they put the very high price for the products, with only economical reasons as determinant, disregarding the social or moral aspect. Those are characteristic of capitalism.” (p. 11)
Dr Supari started to oppose this unequal treatment: “Each time I looked into the past, I saw the shadow of imperialism that had taken the most resources of my country because we had no technology to take the benefit from the resources. It seemed that I could watch they pumped out the most of our crude oil only because we did not have the technology and the money to process them.” (p. 10)

Premature fallacy of the WHO

With respect to the so-called “cluster-cases” she describes another case of unequal treatment that affected her country. Indonesia has the largest cluster cases, that means the greatest incidence of avian flu within one family. In Tanah Karo seven of eight family members had become infected by the virus. The experts drew the conclusion – prematurely and without any further inquiry that the familial clustering was a case of man-to-man transmission of the virus.
With this conclusion they arrogantly published a press release locally and internationally meaning for the world public that the terrible avian flu pandemic had finally begun. That would have had disastrous consequences for Indonesia and the country would have become isolated.
Supari describes how she started to defend her country: “Firstly, I sent a serious notice to WHO Indonesia for releasing an uncertain statement, which will cause very severe consequences to Indonesia. […] Secondly, I asked about the DNA sequence of the virus from Tanah Karo which had been shared with the WHO-CCs. […] Thirdly I instructed the WHO Indonesia to correct the news of CNN, or I would sue them to the United Nations.”
Next she organized a press conference and corrected the premature fallacy herself.
Even when the result of the DNA-analysis from a laboratory of her choice (without WHO acknowledgement) proved that the H5N1 virus of Tanah Karo actually was a more aggressive form of  the same virus and so the man-to man transmission was not confirmed, this new information was ignored and was hushed up by scientists and the WHO.

On 24 April of this year the “Jakarta Post” published an article that just this laboratory had requested immunity for all its employees. Although Michael Leavitt travelled to Indonesia himself, the Indonesian Government only partly acceded to this request. Instead Indonesian Secretary of Foreign Affairs Eddy Pratomo demanded full transparency. Indonesia was to have full access to all research projects and their results, for it was suspected that this laboratory was working by order of some secret agency. NAMRU laboratories are above all serving the US military personal that had been stationed there. In April 2008 Siti Sapore had stopped the virus transfer to the NAMRU2 laboratory until they would be willing to share  their research findings with Indonesia and other countries so that these countries would become able to develop and produce their own vaccines.

Viruses for Los Alamos …

Although the professional training of Indonesia’s scientists  was very good or even better they were not treated equally compared to their colleagues from the industrial countries. Indonesia was e.g. promised a donation of 3 million dollar by Health Minister Michael Leawitt, but the country did never see anything of it. When US Secretary of Foreign Affairs Condoleezza Rice once visited, Dr Supari learned that the money had been given to the NAMRU2 (US Naval  Medical Research Unit 2) with the argument that this laboratory did H5N1-research in co-operation with the Indonesian Health Ministry. NAMUR2 is a great research unit outside the USA and gives jobs to 175 employees, 19 of them are US-Americans.

“A senior bio defense researcher at the Defense Ministry, Isro Samiharjo, told the audience the U.S. government used Los Alamos to develop biological weapons. Isro supported Siti’s claims, saying the samples could be used to develop weapons, added that a similar scenario had taken place in the U.S. in the 1980s, when plant-hoppers had attacked a wide range of paddy fields and turned Indonesia into an importer of paddy seeds until now. Isro said biological weapons could be used to make one country dependent on another, a condition he referred to as “covered imperialism”. “There is evidently a conspiracy,” he said, discussing the United States’ involvement in the development of biological weapons. With the inevitable development of such weapons, Isro said, Indonesia’s Defense Ministry, through its directorate for defense potential, had begun to focus on biodefense.“

“Jakarta Post”, 16.3.2008

An important chapter in her book deals with the secret laboratory of Los Alamos. When investigating into the whereabouts of the DNA sequence of the H5N1 virus she learned that the genetic material had been passed on from the WHO and WHO-CCs directly to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. There were only very few scientists who were allowed to do research on the DNA-sequences.

Vaccines for biological weapons?

Los Alamos is the laboratory in which research is done on biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. “It shocked me very hard. I knew that the Los Alamos laboratory is under the control of the US Departement of Energy. It was in the same laboratory that designed the atomic bomb to destroy Hiroshima in 1945. It is likely that they utilize the same facility to research and to develop chemical weapons. What a terrifying fact! The DNA sequence data of H5N1 virus had been the privilege for the scientists in Los Alamos. Whether they used it to make vaccine or develop chemical weapon, would depend on the need and the interest of the US government. It is indeed a very dangerous situation for the destiny of the entire human beings.” (p. 19)
Supari’s suspicion was justified that one of the Indonesian virus strains that had been sent to the WHO, might have been passed on to Los Alamos – for the development and production of biological weapons. “…the sender never knew the fate of their specimen. Was it sent to a nonprofit institution to develop vaccine needed by the affected countries? Or was it sent to a commercial enterprise, or even to some place to be processed into biological weapon?” (p. 13)
When she asked for the data of the Tanah-Karo-Virus that she had sent via the WHO-CCs she learned from the Internet that the Los Alamos Laboratory had been closed. But where had her virus strains ended up? Part of the data had been given to the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) and the rest had gone to Bio Health Security (BHS). She learned that many researchers had also been transferred from Los Alamos to the BHS. She wondered whether the BHS was a research institution to develop biological weapons under supervision of the Pentagon. “If this was the case, it meant, that the game was continued with different name and location.” (p. 21)
Before the negotiations with the WHO started her assumption was confirmed by WHO  CEO Dr Margret Chan. At a meeting she told her: “What you said in your speech is defenitely true. There was a criminal in the WHO who sent the seed virus or the data to Los Alamos. But now he has been terminated, Madame Minister,” she said. “Please help me and David Heymann, we got the system from our predecessors. And I hope I can transform it, Madame,” she continued. (p. 129)
Early in December 2006 the Indonesian Government decided to no longer hand over their viruses to the WHO and the WHO laboratories, as long as they followed the GISN’s obscure mechanisms. Instead she demanded transparency, so that those countries that had been severely affected by the avian flu, would be able to profit from the surrender of the viruses.
A tough wrestling started on international level. Supari realized that the WHO secretariat had arbitrarily cancelled a passage from the guidelines for the exchange of virus material from 2005 to 2007. This passage ruled the correct exchange of virus material in such a way that the virus strains would remain the property of their country of origin. (Material Transfer Agreement, MTA) […]). “In my opinion this was an extreme violation if it could not be called a crime of an organization that should operate under the principle of clean governance.” (p. 61)
It was right to denounce that gross injustice.

Criminal machinations at the WHO?

On 28 March Dr Supari organized two high-level meetings together with similar thinking countries. In her introductory speech she raised her demands.
On the day before she had already come to a consensus at a high-level-meeting that a new mechanism was necessary for the exchange of viruses. “We cannot proceed further without expressing the expectation that any programs concerning virus sample sharing must, as agreed with the WHO, be responsibly used for risk assessment purposes only and will not be used for a production of vaccine for commercial purposes, without the knowledge of the sample originating countries. I mut take this point because it is important to stress that developing countries must be assured of equitable access to the H5N1 influenza vaccine. To date, while only 10% of the world is concentrated in Europe and North America, that part of the world holds 90% of the production capacity for the influenza vaccine. Meanwhile, in the event of a crisis, the majority of developing countries would have no access to vaccines during and possibly after the first wave of pandemic. We must therefore consolidate our efforts on seeking effective methodologies for the production and distribution of pandemic vaccines that also take into consideration the technical, economic, and humanitarian concerns in a manner that effectively, ensures global preparedness.” (p. 180)
Present at the high-level meeting were ministers of health, high representatives and other official representatives from 12 concerned countries and 23 other countries, including emerging countries and industrial countries, countries producing vaccines and further important concerned countries and the WHO. The meeting ended with the “Jacarta Declaration on Responsible Practices for Sharing Avian Influenca Viruses and Resulting Benefits”. The declaration demanded to discuss the whole issue with all member states at the WHA.
On 14 May 2007 the sixtieth meeting of the WHA took place in Geneva, the result of which was laid down in the Resolution 60.28.
At an important government meeting on 20 November 2007 all countries agreed that there is no place for a GISN in the WHO.
Dr Supari’s book shows impressively and emphatically that a woman is able to open a way and achieve a dignified and equal treatment of her country, if she is able to assume a determined standpoint and to persistently demand equality in all respects, even if she has to break through undemocratic, oppressive and neo-colonial structures. She had to assert herself against all attempts of the western world and the super power USA to finally achieve the change of paradigm by persistent negotiations: from the old paradigm that meant a great danger for humanity to a new paradigm that means welfare for the majority of the world’s people.
In May 2009 the 62nd session of the WHA will take place in Geneva. Just enough time to read her important book •