THE world's ability to track the evolution of flu and develop vaccines against it hangs in the balance. Governments will meet next week at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, to try and rebuild the global system for sharing flu viruses after protests by Indonesia earlier this year. The country has sent only five H5N1 samples from infected people to WHO labs in 2007. Virologists say this is not enough to track H5N1 evolution.

Indonesia and its allies complain that the samples they send to the WHO-run Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN) are being turned into patented diagnostic tests and vaccines that they can't afford. "There has been a huge spike in H5N1-related patents recently," says Ed Hammond of pressure group the Sunshine Project.

In August, Indonesia argued that countries that supply virus should be guaranteed access to vaccines. It is unclear whether the Geneva meeting will make enough progress towards setting up such a system to get Indonesia sending samples again. But "we need to know what is happening to the Indonesian virus," says Dave Heymann, head of flu at the WHO.