Biopiracy and Vaccines: Indonesia and the WHO Pandemic Influenza Plan

by Mariah Tso

Viral sample sharing plays a vital role in preparing pre-pandemic vaccines. However, such efforts to fight diseases raise key moral questions. In 2007, competing paradigms between developed and developing nations led Indonesia to briefly stop sharing viral samples of influenza strains with the World Health Organization (WHO). Smallman examines the conflicting interests and viewpoints of the dispute and the World Health Organization’s resolution strategies. According to Smallman, developed countries framed their argument on the basis of international law that required developing countries to share samples in order to support global health security, whereas developing countries framed the dispute as a form of biopiracy that maintained neocolonial relationships. The biopiracy argument allowed Indonesia to apply pressure to international organizations by portraying them as neo-imperial agents, therefore WHO was forced to act in order to maintain their credibility. Ultimately the WHO’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) report, ended the dispute through its benefits sharing model and by reforming the virus sharing system. Smallman concludes that the benefits-sharing model integral to PIP will likely serve as a model for future agreements regarding similar issues in the future. Continue reading

Bioprospecting in Colombia

by Mariah Tso

Biodiversity remains a largely unexplored aspect of the world’s ecosystems. Since the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), access to and jurisdiction over biological resources is now considered under the control of each State. Additionally, developing countries use bioprospecting, “the systematic pursuit, classification and research of new sources of chemical compounds, genes, proteins and other products that make up biological diversity and which have real or potential economic value”, to be scientifically and technologically competitive. Guiza et al. (2013) examine the effectiveness of bioprospecting policies in Colombia and the compliance of those policies with international treaties and guidelines. The authors examined the use of biological resource and genetic resource permits and how these permits have affected research groups in the field. They found that bioprospecting has become more common in the last few years, however the number of permits does not match the number of projects, suggesting missing information and possible illegal activities. In short, regulations have generated negative impacts for scientific research and that there is still no clear policy to promote biodiversity research and knowledge. Continue reading

Biopiracy and Biodiversity Conservation

by Mariah Tso

Biodiversity conservation is a global problem, particularly with respect to data availability and access, and the lack of it is being exacerbated by climate change. At the global scale, key barriers to the collection and compilation of biodiversity information have yet to be identified. Tatsuya Amano and William J. Sutherland (2013) identify and discuss how wealth, language, geographical location, and security explain various spatial variations in data availability in four different types of biodiversity databases. The authors found that countries with high numbers of biodiversity records are also high in per capita gross domestic product (GDP), proportion of English speakers, security levels, and are located close to the country hosting the database. However these countries with better records don’t necessarily have high biodiversity. The authors claim that these factors affect data availability by hindering scientific research activities and/or international communications and have caused an under collection of biodiversity data from biodiversity-rich countries. They conclude that efforts to overcome these barriers should focus on scientific education, communication, research, and collaboration in low-GDP countries with fewer English speakers that are located far from… Continue reading