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Settling Controversy Surrounding Bird Flu Research Will Not Be Easy

The WHO is expected to hold a meeting in February to discuss controversy over recent research on the H5N1 bird flu virus, after the U.S. National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in December advised the journals Science and Nature to withhold publishing two teams’ research on the virus for fear the information could “fall into the wrong hands,” a commentary in the Economist’s “Babbage” blog states. “In a statement sent to Science, the WHO says that research” into bird flu genetics is “an important tool for global surveillance efforts,” the commentary says.

“The organization also reportedly worries that limiting access to relevant findings would be difficult to square with its recently updated pandemic influenza preparedness framework,” the commentary adds, concluding, “That agreement, which stipulates that countries which provide virus samples should also receive the benefits of research, was preceded by four years of rancorous debate. If anything can be said for certain, then, it is that the gulf between those in favor of tighter controls and those against will be hard to bridge in two months” (1/21).