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Aid Vital To Stop Bird Flu Becoming Human Pandemic

Global Aid, Biosecurity Vital To Stop Bird Flu Becoming Human Pandemic - UN

International aid, strict biosecurity measures throughout the poultry production chain and heightened public awareness are crucial to preventing bird flu, now rife in Asian countries, from mutating into a global influenza human pandemic, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

“There is an increasing risk of avian influenza spread that no poultry keeping country can afford to ignore,” the Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division, Samuel Jutzi, told a regional conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, of the H5N1 virus, which has infected more than 50 people, over three dozen fatally, and led to the deaths or culling of nearly 140 million birds in the past year.

“The disease could, in the worst case, lead to a new global human influenza pandemic,” he said. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20, which is not related to the current virus, is thought to have killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide.

“Our objective is to protect human health - locally and internationally - and to promote food security and our strategy is to control the disease at source,” Mr. Jutzi added, urging that transmission in free-range chickens and wetland dwelling ducks be addressed to curb the virus before it spreads to other parts of the world. “Affected countries need more help to search for infection and conduct analysis. Veterinary services also need access to better tools for diagnosis and disease control, including vaccines that are efficient, cost-effective and safe,” he said, calling for urgent international aid to help Asian countries “get on top of this current serious situation.”

He also said some traditional practices such as drinking raw duck blood need to be changed to prevent further human infection.

FAO noted that the recent outbreaks had devastated many local economies, especially in rural communities that depend on poultry for their subsistence, leaving many farmers in deep debt. Total Asian poultry farm losses in 2004 are estimated at more than $10 billion, according to Oxford Economic Forecasting.

Mr. Jutzi warned that bird flu will probably persist for many years in some affected countries with wild birds, particularly ducks, considered natural hosts of the virus. But current evidence suggests trade in live poultry, mixing of avian species on farms and at live bird markets, and poor biosecurity in poultry production contribute much more to disease spread than wild bird movements.

FAO advises against destruction of wild birds and their habitats as such practice is unlikely to contribute significantly to disease control and is inappropriate from a wildlife conservation viewpoint.

The three-day conference is jointly organized by FAO and the 167-member inter-governmental World Animal Health Organization (OIE) in collaboration with the UN World Health Organization (WHO), and hosted by the Government of Viet Nam.

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