WHO urges information sharing over novel coronavirus

Coronavirus The World Health Organisation says it is closely monitoring the virus

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries with possible cases of novel coronavirus to share information.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia said the development of diagnostic tests had been delayed by patent rights on the NCoV virus by commercial laboratories.

Twenty-two deaths and 44 cases have been reported worldwide since 2012, the WHO says.

NCoV is from the same family of viruses as the one that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

An outbreak of Sars in 2003 killed about 770 people. However, NCoV and Sars are distinct from each other, the WHO says.

The virus first emerged in Saudi Arabia, which is where most cases have since arisen.

Saudi Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish raised his concerns at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

"We are still struggling with diagnostics and the reason is that the virus was patented by scientists and is not allowed to be used for investigations by other scientists," he said.

"I think strongly that the delay in the development of ... diagnostic procedures is related to the patenting of the virus."

'Uncertainty'

WHO chief Margaret Chan expressed dismay at the information.

"Why would your scientists send specimens out to other laboratories on [sic] a bilateral manner and allow other people to take intellectual property rights on a new disease?" she asked.

"Any new disease is full of uncertainty."

She is urging the WHO's 194 member states to only share "viruses and specimens with WHO collaborating centres... not in a bilateral manner."

She added: "I will follow it up. I will look at the legal implications together with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. No IP (intellectual property) should stand in the way of you, the countries of the world, to protect your people."

WHO's assistant director-general for health security, Dr Keiji Fukuda, said his agency had also been "struggling with diagnostics" because of property rights concerns and ill-defined international rules for sharing such materials, AP news agency reported.

Cases of novel coronavirus have been detected in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, the UK and France.

Twenty-two of the 44 cases reported worldwide have been in Saudi Arabia, WHO says.

Out of the 22 deaths, 10 of them have been in the kingdom, it adds.

Cover image
 The novel coronavirus comes from the family of viruses, which also includes the common cold and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
Coronaviruses cause respiratory infections in humans and animals. NCoV is known to cause pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.
It is not yet known for certain how humans catch the virus, but it is possibly spread in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

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