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Need for Countries to Plan for Pandemic Stressed

UN Bird Flu Coordinator Stresses Need for Countries to Plan for Pandemic

New York, May 4 2006 4:00PM

The top United Nations coordinator for bird flu today stressed the importance of national plans for tackling a possible human pandemic of the disease, acknowledging that while the task is difficult and complex, the effects of a human-to-human outbreak would be so dramatic it would be “wrong” not to make coordinated preparations.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Dr. David Nabarro, the UN System’s Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, also re-emphasized the difficulties African countries were facing in dealing with bird flu, including the need for more cash to help the continent fight the disease.

“As well as looking at the issues of avian influenza and dealing with the human cases of avian influenza, I am also working very closely with the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and other parts of the United Nations on ways to reduce the risk of a human pandemic and to improve the capacity of countries to plan for pandemic if it were to come.”

“Now planning for a pandemic is pretty difficult because you don’t know when it’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen, who’s going to be affected, there’s a lot of unknowns but at the same time the potential threat of a pandemic is so dramatic if it was to come that it would be wrong for any country not to be giving emphasis to pandemic planning.”

In terms of specifics, Dr. Nabarro said the UN had been looking at what needs to be put into its own contingency plan, particularly issues outside the health sector.

He called for attention to what actions that different parts of government and civil society were expected to perform, accountability, and coordination among countries “so that when the pandemic hits we’ve got synergy across borders.”

Dr. Nabarro said he’d been looking at pandemic plans from various countries as they evolved, adding that he’d seen many “exciting developments” while noting that yesterday the operational plan for the United States pandemic strategy was released.

He also highlighted other developments that were happening globally and in particular stressed the challenges faced by countries in Africa.

“At the moment, we’ve got right now the ministers from the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) region, who are responsible for avian and human influenza work, meeting together to review how action is going, they’re meeting in Danang in Viet Nam,” said Dr. Nabarro, pointing out that “they’re all committed to a result.”

Africa’s challenges are “very difficult,” he said. “The countries themselves, some of them are facing big difficulties with getting implementation going and…there’s also quite a shortage of cash for African countries,” he said, emphasizing the Secretary-General’s March call for more resources to help the continent cope with bird flu.

Although there have been scores of millions of deaths among birds worldwide, there have so far only been 205 human cases of bird flu, 113 of them fatal, since the current outbreak started in South East Asia in December, 2003, ascribed to contact with infected birds. But experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate, gaining the ability to pass from person to person and in a worst case scenario unleashing a deadly human pandemic.


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