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Global Bird Flu Strategy Being Developed

International organizations, donors lay groundwork for November meeting

Posted: October 29, 2005

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)

Washington – International health organizations will meet November 7-9 in Geneva to produce a plan of action for preventing an avian influenza pandemic.

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 NEEDS

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 in October.

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 birds.

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 Flu.


Michael Jay Friedman
Washington File Staff Writer

 

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