Thursday, October 29, 2009

Indonesia to Reopen NAMRU-2

New Indonesian Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih said on Friday that the controversial United States Naval Medical Research Unit-2 shut down by previous health minister Siti Fadillah Supari for alleged non-scientific activities, including espionage, would reopen with a new name and under civilian control.

Endang, speaking after the first meeting of the new cabinet, said the research unit, also known as Namru, had been shut down because of its military links, but civilian-to-civilian cooperation with the United States in the field of biomedical research would continue.

“The Namru military presence no longer exists,” Endang said, adding that the unit had been renamed the Indonesia-United States Center for Medical Research, or IUS.

Endang, whom Siti demoted in 2008 for taking bird flu samples out of the country without permission, said the IUS would focus on the development of vaccines and diagnostic tools and the identification of viruses and bacteria.

Separately, Patra M. Zen, chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to establish an independent team to investigate Namru, and similar operations, before allowing the Health Ministry to establish new cooperation agreements.

He said the government should not approve any cooperation agreement that did not offer sufficient benefits to Indonesia.

The Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (MER-C), a Islamic nongovernmental organization that has been linked to hardline groups and individuals, also went on the offensive during a news conference on Friday. MER-C representative Jose Rizal said that though the new agreement involved civilians, the government should still be wary. “We have to be alert of such agreements because [it] could be a new NAMRU with a different face.” Jose said.

“If they already have the virus, they can make the vaccine. The vaccine can be sold at a very high price,” Jose said. “The virus can even be used to create a new disease, just to make a vaccine that can be sold.”

Jose urged the government to monitor such operations and involve more local researchers, adding it would be best if the government halted all foreign involvement. “We want the virus samples not to fall into the wrong hands. If they were misused, like for creating biological weapons, then it would be a dangerous for us and the world,” Jose said.

View the entire article in the Jakarta Globe at

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