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Middle East

Saudi Arabia says MERS treatment delayed

A Dutch university is accused of slowing down the development of a vaccine for a deadly respiratory virus.

Last Modified: 20 Jun 2013 17:16
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Saudi Arabia has accused a laboratory in the Netherlands of slowing down the development of a treatment for the MERS coronavirus that has so far killed 38 people.

The respiratory virus, which originated in the Middle East, spreads easily between people and appears more deadly than SARS according to doctors.

Saudi Arabia has said on Thursday that last year virologist Dr Ali Mohamad Zaki sent a sample of the virus to the Netherlands' Erasmus University.

The academic institution then identified the virus and applied for a patent on its genetic sequence before sharing the information and samples with other labs, under the condition it would retain rights on any discoveries.

The work done by Erasmus University was essential in the understanding and tracking of any virus, and ultimately in developing a vaccine, to which the university would also hold the rights.

With the number of cases increasing in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia raised questions over whether the public good was being put first and the Saudi government made its own sequencing of the virus public.

Saudi Arabia’s deputy health minister told delegates at the World Health Assembly that under international law his country has sovereign rights to the virus.

Deadly virus

David Freedman, professor of Medicine and Epidemiology from the University of Alabama said the World Health Organisation (WHO) would not be able to develop a vaccine, and that the commercialisation of drugs was necessary.

Professor David freedman talks to Al Jazeera

"I think in the end if is pharmaceutical companies ad industries that is going to make it available and produce it. Academic centres, the WHO itself doesn't have its own labs," he said.

"Without the commercial sector there's going to be no vaccines or drugs out there."

More than 60 cases of MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), including 38 deaths, have been recorded by the World Health Organisation in the past year, mostly in Saudi Arabia..

An international team of doctors who investigated nearly two dozen cases in eastern Saudi Arabia found the new coronavirus has some striking similarities to SARS.

The team said MERS not only spreads easily between people, but within hospitals.

"To me, this felt a lot like SARS did," said Dr. Trish Perl, a senior hospital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who was part of the team.

Their report was published online on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

MERS cases have also been reported in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Tunisia.

Compared to SARS' eight percent death rate, the fatality rate for MERS in the Saudi outbreak was about 65 percent.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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