"Our role is in developing and producing vaccines. We are not involved in ownership issues related to virus strains," she added.

Sharing samples

Experts say the sharing of H5N1 samples is crucial as it allows specialists to study the make-up of the virus and trace the evolution and geographical spread of any particular strain. Samples are also used to prepare vaccines.

"... the more virus that is shared with the world the better chances we have of understanding how the virus operates and developing effective responses"

Gregory Hartl,
World Health Organisation spokesman
"We recognise Indonesia's right to secure a vaccine for its people ... but the more virus that is shared with the world the better chances we have of understanding how the virus operates and developing effective responses," Gregory Hartl, spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO), told Al Jazeera.

Indonesia has the highest human fatalities from the disease, 63 deaths out of the global total of 166 in the past four years.

Kim Bush, president of Baxter's vaccine unit in Switzerland, said that the decision on samples was Indonesia's.
   
"We certainly support and endorse the best practice recommendation coming from WHO [World Health Organisation] for the sharing of viruses and sequence data," Bush said.

If Baxter is able to produce an effective vaccine, it would provide protection against the strain of bird flu virus currently found in Indonesia, but not necessarily against other H5N1 strains across the world.

Commercial purposes

Siti Fadillah Supari, Indonesia's health minister, defended the decision, saying that samples should be used only for diagnostic and not commercial purposes.
   
"The specimens we sent to the WHO have been forwarded to their collaborating centre. There it has been used for various reasons such as vaccine development ... or research," Supari said.
   
"Later they sold the discovery to us. This is not fair. We are the ones who got sick. They took the sample through WHO and with WHO consent and they tried to produce it for their own use," she said at a news conference after signing the pact with Baxter.

Under the memorandum of understanding, Indonesia would have the right to produce and market the bird flu vaccine domestically. It is negotiating to export it to a number of countries.

Baxter has already developed a vaccine, which is undergoing trials, for humans for the Vietnamese strain of the virus, but Indonesia needs a vaccine for its own specific strain.