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Sutton - Launch of plans for Wallaceville

16 August 2005

Launch of plans for Wallaceville, Parliament

Ladies and Gentlemen: my colleague Paul Swain, Director-general Murray Sherwin, I am delighted you could join me here today, to formally launch plans for the National Centre of Biosecurity and Infectious Disease.

This centre of excellence in animal and human health will be built at Wallaceville in Upper Hutt, building on the resources that have been an important part of the primary production sector in New Zealand for 100 years.

Throughout that time, its work has become even more important.

This investment strengthens a key linkage between human and animal health issues, first recognised when the Wallaceville laboratory was established in 1905.

John Anderson Gilruth, a veterinarian, pathologist, researcher and administrator was brought to New Zealand in 1893 to work in the recently formed Department of Agriculture.

He and Dr James Mason of Otaki were appointed health commissioners to provide advice on the bubonic plague health alarm in New Zealand in 1900. Their report was instrumental in the formation of the Department of Public Health in 1900, in which Gilruth worked part-time as a pathologist.

Gilruth further highlighted the connection between animal and human health in his work on bovine turberculosis and began using the tuberculin test in 1904, some twenty years before the disease was to be seriously investigated.

Gilruth continued to work for the Department of Agriculture, and was the key figure behind the establishment of Wallaceville in 1905.

The re-establishment of a Centre shared by animal and human health scientists comes at a time of increasing world concern about disease transmission from animals to humans, in particular SARS and avian influenza.

The new National Centre of Biosecurity and Infectious Disease will link on a single site: · the existing facilities and staff of MAF's investigation and diagnostic centre, previously known as the National Centre for Disease Investigation; · new Institute of Environmental Science and Research facilities and staff; · the parts of AgriQuality that make diagnostic reagents; and · the infectious diseases diagnostic component of AgResearch.

The new centre will enhance national capabilities and services for investigating and responding to: · existing, new, and emerging animal disease such as foot and mouth disease and avian influenza; · existing, new, and emerging diseases that transfer from animals to humans (that is, zoonoses), such as BSE, SARS, and avian influenza; and · other major public health concerns such as food-borne disease outbreaks and influenza outbreaks.

The National Centre of Biosecurity and Infectious Disease will provide a centralised national coordination point for human health high containment reference laboratory facilities, surveillance for disease outbreaks, biosecurity issues, and response to chemical and biological threats and events that may arise.

The Centre will use New Zealand's only infectious disease laboratory with Physical Containment Level 3 facilities for human health purposes as well as its current animal health purposes.

We think New Zealand will benefit from a closer working relationship between scientists, researchers, epidemiologists, and laboratory staff in animal and human health fields.

Many significant emerging diseases that threaten humans are diseases that transfer from animals to humans.

The skills and equipment required for the laboratory diagnosis of infectious diseases of animals and humans are similar. The new centre will leverage off existing MAF, AgriQuality, and ESR capability and investment to co-locate our human and animal health diagnostic capabilities.

It will cluster multi-disciplinary skills including microbiology, virology, epidemiology, incident response, disease modelling, and forecasting. Overseas research indicates that such clustering can produce significant benefits by fostering information exchange and shared use of resources.

Our country is reliant on its primary industry for much of its livelihood, and this Government has done all it can to ensure that our environment and farming businesses are protected from pests and diseases.

Since December 1999, when we came into Government, we have had a demonstrable commitment to biosecurity. Baseline biosecurity funding ? that's funding from year to year and doesn't include one-off allocations for particular incursions ? has increased by about 60 per cent.

We have introduced 100 per cent screening of all air crew and passengers, introduced soft-tissue x-rays and detector dogs at all international airports, and set up a sea container screening programme.

However, we're not complacent about our border control measures. We continually review our systems, and the procedures in place for any disease or pest outbreak.

The recent exercise Project Taurus tested our readiness for a foot and mouth outbreak, and that readiness was tested again a month later with the hoax scare on Waiheke Island. The centre at Wallaceville played an important part in both those.

In addition, the additional funding as part of the formation of this centre of excellence will enable ESR to provide better training and advice for public health staff in field epidemiology, and enable ESR to provide in-field support for designated officers requiring assistance in managing larger outbreaks. This is an important enhancement for health's capability and capacity to deal with emergencies caused by emerging infectious diseases.

Ladies and Gentlemen: this function formally launches the plans for the new centre. We intend the National Centre for Biosecurity and Infectious Disease to be set up over the next 18 months.

The Labour-led Government has a demonstrable commitment to biosecurity, and this centre is just another example of that. It's something myself and my colleagues the Minister of Health and Food Safety Annette King, the minister of Crown Research Institutes Steve Maharey, and of course our colleague and MP for Rimutuka Paul Swain have worked for vigorously with our other Cabinet colleagues.

I think we're going to end up with a facility second to none, world-class, building on the skills and ability of the staff who work so hard and well for all of us in New Zealand.

Thank you for your interest in this project. I appreciate you taking the time from your busy schedules to attend this function. I encourage you all to stay involved as we complete the establishment of the new centre and its future work.

ENDS

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