International health organizations will meet November 7-9
in Geneva to produce a plan of action for preventing an
avian influenza pandemic.
A man sprays disinfectant at a chicken farm in Kirkuk, Iraq. International health organizations will meet November 7-9 in Geneva to produce a plan of action for preventing an avian influenza pandemic. The H5N1 influenza virus that has caused the death or destruction of more than 150 million birds now has appeared in areas as distant from Southeast Asia as Turkey and Croatia. (© AP/WWP)
The sponsoring agencies -- the World Health
Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for
Animal Health (OIE) – say they plan to title the meeting,
“The H5N1 Agenda: Towards a global strategy.”
The WHO reported October 26 that the meeting’s
purpose will be to develop a dual strategy to control avian
influenza at its source in animals, and at the same time
prepare for pandemic influenza in humans.
The largest outbreak of avian influenza
ever to occur has been causing sickness and death among
birds in Southeast Asia since late 2003.
The H5N1 influenza virus that has caused
the death or destruction of more than 150 million birds
now has appeared in areas as distant from Southeast Asia
as Turkey and Croatia.
The virus also has some capability to infect
humans, with 121 cases reported in four nations, resulting
in 62 fatalities. Health authorities warn that if the virus
becomes contagious among humans, a flu pandemic could result,
with the potential to cause millions of deaths globally.
(See related article).
MEETING SEEKS TO ASSESS PROGRESS, IDENTIFY
The November 7-9 meeting in Geneva aims
to identify the progress and the needs in mustering an international
response to this public health situation, according to the
October 26 WHO announcement.
“The U.S. government has devoted a
total of some $38 million to our international efforts to
support the most affected countries, which are in need of
capacity building: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia,”
said Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
Paula Dobriansky October 21 at a press briefing on her return
from a Southeast Asia trip focused on the issue.
Dobriansky called the United States a leader
in the global response to the threat of a pandemic.
“A very important part of our doctrine
as a country in dealing with this is the idea that if person-to-person
transmission occurs anywhere, there is risk everywhere,”
said U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael
Leavitt, who led the U.S. delegation to Southeast Asia early
U.S. officials emphasize that they are working
to heighten international awareness about the seriousness
of this health threat.
The U.S. government hosted a meeting of
representatives of more than 80 other governments October
7 to emphasize the need for prevention and containment of
disease outbreaks and the importance of planning and preparedness.
(See related article.)
The U.S. State Department issued a fact
sheet October 19 to heighten awareness about the global
threat of pandemic influenza and urge caution for Americans
who may be traveling in areas where avian influenza is widespread
among birds. (See related article).
INTERNATIONAL ACTION TO DETECT, PREVENT
SPREAD OF BIRD FLU
Recent assessments from the FAO show increasing
international action on prevention and detection.
The European Union and many of the former
Soviet republics imposed restrictions on the import of poultry
after H5N1 appeared in Russia and Kazakhstan.
The European Union also has assessed the
risks of disease spread within its region and is approving
surveillance plans being put forth by member states.
Uzbekistan has tightened its control on
poultry slaughter and sales and banned the hunting of wild
The suspicion that H5N1 has been carried
across continents by flocks of migratory birds has led some
nations to take action to prevent domestic birds from risking
contact with wild birds in fields or watering places.
The Netherlands has ordered poultry to be
kept indoors or under nets, and Germany has announced restrictions
on keeping poultry outside.
For more information on U.S. and international
efforts to combat avian influenza, see Bird
Michael Jay Friedman
Washington File Staff Writer