China's efforts to maintain control over samples of avian flu taken on its soil, as well as the research done on them, have put it at odds with international health officials trying to defeat the disease.
The standoff pits a high-ranking veterinarian in China's Ministry of Agriculture named Jia Youling against international health authorities leading the fight against bird flu. Their conflict surfaced after wild birds began dying by the thousands last spring in a remote region of western China. At the ministry's headquarters in Beijing, officials from the World Health Organization and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization asked Dr. Jia to share with them the samples of bird flu that scientists under his ministry had collected from the birds.
He didn't provide them. Instead, Dr. Jia -- a professorial-looking 58-year-old who had risen steadily through the ministry's ranks since he joined it in 1979 -- began to talk about a recent research paper he had noticed on avian flu. According to Julie Hall, the WHO's top communicable-disease expert in Beijing and a participant at the meeting, he had a complaint: Months earlier, a team led by American scientists published a paper in an academic journal using China's samples, but without crediting or consulting their Chinese counterparts. The occasion, Dr. Hall says, "was used to express their deeper concern about ensuring that Chinese scientists were duly recognized." Dr. Jia declined to comment, saying, "I don't want to mention those things because they are all in the past."
Since that meeting, China hasn't provided a single sample from its infected flocks, despite repeated requests by WHO amid the roughly 30 outbreaks the country has reported in the past 12 months.