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Opinions: Discrimination Against Sexual Orientation; WFP In Somalia; Haiti’s Recovery; WHO’s Policy Role

Discrimination Against Sexual Orientation Are ‘Backward Steps’ For Human Rights In Africa In a Washington Post opinion piece, Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, speaks out against efforts to deny individuals “their fundamental rights and freedoms” based on their sexual orientation. Tutu cites cases in…

Rep. Sensenbrenner Sends Second Letter Inquiring About U.S. Government’s Review Of Controversial H5N1 Studies

“A senior Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives is asking more questions about how the U.S. government reviewed two controversial H5N1 avian influenza studies, and how it wrote a new policy for reviewing taxpayer-funded studies that might be used for good and evil,” ScienceInsider reports. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) on Monday “sent a letter [.pdf] to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asking him to clarify how the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) reached its recent decision to recommend publication of the two studies after recommending against publication late last year,” the news service writes, noting, “The letter also asks for more information on which government officials were involved” in the new policy regarding research that might be “dual use research of concern” (DURC).

Dutch Government Grants Export License Allowing Publication Of Controversial H5N1 Study

“The Dutch government has agreed to grant an export license to allow Ron Fouchier, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical University in Rotterdam, to publish his work on H5N1 avian influenza in Science,” Nature’s “News Blog” reports (Owens, 4/27). “Fouchier had to get permission first from the Dutch Department of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation — in line with E.U. regulations — because a risk existed that the H5N1 virus, as well as its research, ‘could be used for the wrong purposes,’ the Dutch department said in a statement,” according to Agence France-Presse (4/28).

Voluntary Moratorium On H5N1 Avian Flu Research Likely To End Soon

Following the conclusion of a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week — meant “to gather feedback from flu researchers, others in the science community, and the public on its draft framework for funding H5N1 gain-of-function studies and to continue an international dialogue on issues related to benefits and risks of the research” — “experts anticipated that a voluntary moratorium on work with lab-modified strains that have increased transmissibility might end soon,” CIDRAP News reports (Schnirring, 12/18). “That’s because officials at the National Institutes of Health say they will be moving swiftly to finalize a new process for deciding whether or not to fund proposed experiments that could potentially create more dangerous forms of the bird flu virus H5N1,” NPR’s “Shots” blog notes.

Meeting Participants Discuss HHS Framework For Funding H5N1 Avian Influenza Research

CIDRAP News reports on a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health during which “researchers, biosecurity experts, and others” discussed the “crafting [of] a framework for funding H5N1 avian influenza gain-of-function studies.” The meeting “is the latest chapter in an intense scientific controversy that was triggered by the publication of two recent studies involving lab-engineered H5N1 strains that showed signs of being transmissible in mammals,” according to the news service. “The global scientific community is closely watching the framework discussions, because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the world’s biggest funders of H5N1 research, including the two studies that sparked the controversy,” CIDRAP writes, adding, “Studies on H5N1 are considered a key pandemic preparedness step, and research findings have been used to help governments guide the development of vaccine and antiviral countermeasures.” According to the news service, “The HHS will post a summary and video of the meeting at a later date for those who weren’t able to attend, and it is encouraging people to submit written comments by Jan 10, 2013” (Schnirring, 12/17).

U.S. Government’s Draft Guidance On Funding For H5N1 Research Receives ‘Mixed Reception,’ Science Reports

“Researchers are giving a mixed reception to a draft U.S. government plan to do more stringent funding reviews of certain kinds of H5N1 avian influenza research — and perhaps even require some studies to be kept secret,” Science reports. “The proposal, presented last week at a meeting of the government’s National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in Bethesda, Maryland, is the latest fallout from the controversy surrounding two studies in which scientists engineered the H5N1 virus, which normally causes deadly infections in birds, to move between mammals, potentially opening the door to a human pandemic,” the magazine continues. The plan contains “seven criteria that a study would have to meet to be eligible for NIH funding,” the magazine notes and includes reaction from several researchers. According to Science, “NIH says it will soon release for public comment a white paper that details the plan, and officials will present it at an international workshop on H5N1 research that HHS is hosting in Bethesda on 17 and 18 December” (Malakoff, 12/7).

Scientific American Examines Efforts To Increase Influenza Virus Monitoring In Pigs To Prevent Pandemics In Humans

Scientific American examines how, in an attempt to improve early recognition of viruses that could give rise to pandemics in people, such as last year’s H1N1 swine flu, scientists are looking to better understand “the viruses that infect the estimated 941 million domesticated pigs around the world.” However, as the article notes, “[i]ntensive monitoring of pig viruses is unlikely to come any time soon … Most pork-producing countries do not test their pigs at all, and in some that do—such as the U.S.—the testing is done on behalf of the pork producers, who have little economic incentive to share what they find. The reason: pig farmers know pork prices plummet when pigs and flu are linked in the news.”

FDA Recommends H1N1 For Inclusion In Next Year’s Flu Vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday recommended that the H1N1 (swine flu) strain be added to next year’s seasonal flu vaccine, “putting an end to separate shots deployed against the pandemic,” Bloomberg reports. The FDA committee voted unanimously to make the H1N1 strain one of the three strains included in the shot, according to the news service. “The panel’s recommendations are routinely adopted and used to guide vaccine manufacturers,” Bloomberg writes (Randall, 2/22).

WHO Will Meet To Decide If H1N1 Has Peaked

The WHO will convene a meeting of its emergency committee later this month to assess whether H1N1 (swine flu) has peaked, Keiji Fukuda, the special adviser to the WHO’s director general for pandemic influenza said Thursday, Bloomberg reports. “While the flu continues to spread in parts of the world, notably northern Africa, eastern Europe and eastern Asia, infection activity is declining, [Fukuda] said,” according to Bloomberg (Serafino, 2/11).