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U.N. Birdflu Expert praises Thailand & Vietnam
posted by admin on 19/04/06
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thailand and Vietnam are doing "excellent work" preparing for a possible bird flu pandemic, paying attention to the threat at the highest levels but also helping local communities get ready, the United Nations bird flu coordinator said on Monday.
The U.S. government has been a strong leader, despite considerable political risks -- not least the possibility of being accused of crying wolf, Dr. David Nabarro said.
"I saw excellent work being done by Thailand," Nabarro told the World Health Care Congress in Washington.
"In the Thai case we have seen the prime minister ask one of the deputy prime ministers to head an inter-ministry group," Nabarro told the meeting of health care representatives. "The high level of political attention is key."
The governor of each Thai province was given responsibility for preparing for a possible pandemic, Nabarro said.
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread to 20 new countries in just six weeks, Nabarro said. "We think it probably went into Cote D'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, in the past few days," he said.
"It's a most extraordinarily rapid movement that we have seen," he told the conference. The virus seems to be carried partly by the poultry trade and partly by migrating birds, Nabarro said.
It mostly affects birds but it can occasionally infect humans. It has been diagnosed in 194 people -- almost all had been in close contact with infected birds -- and has killed 109 of them, according to the World Health Organization.
Just a few mutations would give the virus the ability to pass easily from human to human. This could spark a pandemic that could kill millions in the space of a few months, and experts believe H5N1 is closer to doing this than any strain of flu seen in more than 30 years.
The WHO has been urging countries to prepare relief personnel, ready hospitals as best they can and educate people about basic hygiene when handling poultry, Nabarro said.
The United States has prepared a comprehensive plan and held pandemic "summits" in more than 40 states. The White House said on Monday that an implementation plan is close to being presented to President George W. Bush for his signature.
Thailand has run several exercises, Nabarro said. He said countries like Thailand, which were hit by the devastating tsunami in 2004, realized the importance of preparing for devastating emergencies.
Vietnam, he said, had mobilized 100,000 workers to vaccinate poultry against the virus and assigned local government officials to be in charge of preparations.
Thailand and Vietnam had also mobilized community groups and used mass media to inform the public, Nabarro said.
He singled out Egypt, where the virus has spread to 12 people, as a country not well prepared, saying, "Right now they have got a lot of serious problems there."
The virus has killed three people in Egypt so far, WHO says. The country has a weak public health and veterinary system, it is likely the virus could spread easily in birds without being detected, experts have said.
© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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