Recognizing the pandemic potential and the threat to public health posed by the Avian Influenza, Health Ministers and senior officials of thirteen countries from Southeast and East Asian countries have pledged to accelerate joint collaboration in fighting the disease.
They will work together towards the development of vaccines, diagnostic tests for human disease and research urgently needed to provide more concrete information on this evolving virus. While nationally they will develop and implement effective influenza pandemic preparedness plans, the countries have committed to cooperate on all important aspects, like sharing of experiences and knowledge, characterization of the epidemiology of the disease and defining appropriate public health responses.
In their Joint Ministerial Statement on Prevention and Control of Avian Influenza, the ministers asked for WHO’s support for collaborative research for strengthening pandemic preparedness. They asked WHO to establish bi-regional effective mechanisms to support the sustainable implementation of the collaborative efforts among counties, including the control of other emerging infectious diseases. The ministers asked WHO to facilitate global and regional collaboration to make available the resources required to combat this public health threat, especially for developing countries without sufficient resources.
Inaugurating the meeting, Thailand’s Prime Minister Dr Thaksin Shinawatra signalled a grave warning to the nations about the continuing global risk from Avian Influenza. He said that Thailand had established Special Surveillance and Rapid Response Teams to investigate avian flu outbreaks which have proved to be very effective. Dr Thaksin proposed similar teams should be developed at the international level.
Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director of WHO’s South East Asia Region said that during the last three decades the number of infectious diseases has increased with more than 30 new pathogens newly identified. He said that we urgently need to strengthen global and regional cooperation to ensure global health security. Dr Samlee said that the Ministers’ forum exemplified the effective partnerships between countries and WHO working to ensure health security of people in this part of the world. He emphasized the urgent need for research to better understand the Avian Influenza epidemiology, pathogenicity and the clinical aspects of the disease. He called for inter sectoral cooperation and inter-country collaboration in the spirit of global solidarity.
Dr Shigeru Omi, Regional Director for WHO’s Western Pacific Region said he believed we are closer now to an influenza pandemic than at any time in recent years. This is because of three basic reasons: First the unprecedented geographic spread and impact of the current outbreak in poultry; second, as historically influenza pandemics occur cyclically, every 20 to 30 years, the next one is now overdue; and third, the current virus appears to be not only very resilient, but also versatile, and evidence suggests that as it changes it has become more pathogenic.
He also underlined an important concern of the meeting about a thorough overhaul of animal husbandry practices and the way animals are raised for food, in the Region. In the control of Avian Influenza, a zoonotic disease that originates from animals, we urgently need to change the way animals and humans interact.
The Ministers of Health attending the meeting are from Brunei Darussallam, Cambodia, People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Japan, Republic of Korean, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.