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Homeland Security


Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

17 June 2008

The massive global effort to control highly pathogenic avian influenza had not only led to improved responses to outbreaks in poultry, it had motivated Governments to outline or improve contingency plans to mitigate the direct medical and economic effects of possible flu epidemics among humans, or other threats, the United Nations System Influenza Coordinator said today.

During a Headquarters briefing this morning to update the press on the global response to avian influenza, Dr. David Nabarro said that, while “intensive Government response” had led to improvements in many countries, in 2008 there had, nevertheless, been outbreaks among poultry, especially in places where the H5N1 bird flu virus had become entrenched, including Indonesia, Viet Nam, Bangladesh, Egypt and, to some extent, Nigeria, although the situation in that country had eased somewhat in recent months.

He emphasized that the United Nations was “very concerned” about the situation in Bangladesh and in Indonesia, where the concentration seemed to be in poultry populations in western Java and there had been reports of human infections.

“But, if we look at the rest of the world, I can continue to report that the situation is really improving,” he said, especially since countries had begun to invest massively in improving the functioning of veterinary services and “bio-security” in the rearing of poultry. He cautioned that that did not mean that the situation was completely under control, but rather, it meant that, across the globe, there was a great deal of vigilance and action under way.

Praising the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea for recently mounting quick and successful responses to bird flu outbreaks in those countries, as well as financial sector exercises in Australia and the United States to prepare for the economic impacts of potential avian influenza crises, he said that all those were clear examples of one of the most important ongoing realizations: diseases from animals had the capacity to affect human lives and livelihoods.

He added that the financial sector exercises, in particular, showed that it was not necessarily expensive to prepare for a pandemic and that relevant strategies could help Governments prepare for other disruptions and threats. In recent discussions with Governments, he had noted that Japanese officials were among those keen to integrate pandemic preparedness with other national disaster preparedness strategies.

Further, there was good preparedness work being done in the travel and tourism sector, spearheaded by the World Tourism Organization. He added that, in the health sector, the World Health Organization (WHO) was leading progress on updating international health regulations, the “code of conduct” that countries adopted when faced by major health crises. WHO had also updated its pandemic preparedness guidance.

In addition, he said that WHO was working with Governments on ways to ensure that quantities of vaccines were in place in case of pandemics. Here, he also welcomed a recent donation to WHO by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur of 60 million H5N1 vaccines, which added to previous donations from GlaxoSmithKline and would help build a global stockpile of vaccines in case of an avian influenza pandemic.

He went on to highlight preparations under way for an upcoming global conference on the state of H5N1 and highly pathogenic avian influenza, and preparedness for a pandemic, hosted by the Government of Egypt in Sharm El-Sheikh next October. He would be working with other United Nations agencies, the World Bank and the Egyptian Government on the details of the event during a preparatory meeting next month in Cairo. The likely outcome of the conference would be a country-by-country review of responses to, and preparedness for, avian flu and a much greater understanding of the key role played by the private sector as a major partner in the response to bird flu and general pandemic preparedness.

Responding to questions on research and funding, he said that, looking at the history of the diseases that had caused major suffering in the human race, many had come from the animal kingdom. For example, yellow fever had originated in monkeys; HIV/AIDS had originated in a simian species; and SARS was believed to have come from bats. Research had shown that perhaps two new organisms a year with the potential to affect the human race might be found in animals.

With that in mind, many public health officials in recent months had been drawing on the experience of bird flu to examine other potential diseases that could impact the human race, leading to major social and economic consequences, as well as health-related consequences. To help with global preparedness and contingency planning, United Nations agencies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, had been working to bring more closely together veterinary professionals with human health experts, as well as ministries of agriculture with their livestock departments under the “One World One Health” initiative.

He said the United Nations had been “very fortunate” to have received generous pledges for its pandemic work, amounting to some $2.7 billion in the past three or four years, from national Governments to fight influenza outbreaks. He stressed that the disbursement of the funds had been carefully tracked and monitored. The majority of the money had actually been committed, largely targeting veterinary sectors and livestock production. It had also been dispersed more broadly to address not only poultry, but ways to improve capacity for livestock rearing.

On the human health side, he said, the funds had been used to build up the capacities of human health systems to ensure better surveillance and quicker, more comprehensive responses. He said it had been critical that the pledges were not specifically earmarked for work in a particular sector, allowing the funds to be spread between initiatives on both the human health and animal health sides. He urged donors to keep pledging in that same spirit, so that funds could be used to respond to outbreaks, as well as to strengthen basic systems in developing countries.

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For information media • not an official record

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