News & AnalysisInfectious Diseases

‘Breakthrough’ Deal on Flu Strains Has Modest Provisions

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Science  29 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6029, pp. 525
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6029.525

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When exhausted negotiators in Geneva finally reached a deal about the global sharing of influenza viruses early in the morning on Saturday, 15 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) was quick to call it a "landmark agreement." WHO chief Margaret Chan hailed the 45-page document as "a very significant victory for public health." But the most significant breakthrough may be that, after 4 years of complex and often contentious negotiations, there is a deal at all. The actual text of the agreement—which promises developing countries certain benefits in return for sharing their flu viruses with the world—contains mostly "soft" language that's not legally binding.