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Nations Examine Bird Flu Preparedness At Meeting


By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

Nations Examine Pandemic Flu Preparedness at India Conference

Two days before the December 4-6 New Delhi International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza convened in India's northern capital, journalists from India and Afghanistan gathered at a two-day workshop to learn how to cover the highly pathogenic viral disease of birds and, in 12 countries so far, people.

The 18 attendees, men and women, came from radio and television stations, magazines and newspapers in the region. Thanks to the timing, workshop presenters included high-level officials and avian flu experts who are part of the U.S. delegation to the ministerial.

"The point of the training," said Gustavo Win, workshop leader and a development officer in International Media Training at the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, "is to make sure reporters receive adequate information from experts working on an international level."

A second avian flu workshop for journalists from India, Bangladesh and elsewhere in the region will be held just after the ministerial meeting, December 7-8, in Kolkata, India.

MEETING THE PRESS

Win said there is still confusion among some foreign journalists about highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu and pandemic flu, and about the fact that avian flu is primarily an animal disease that, to date, only rarely has affected people.

Of 335 humans infected since 2003, some 205 have died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 12 nations. That is in contrast to more than 60 nations that have reported H5N1 in birds.

Win's group works alongside WHO, which also has a training program for international journalists and always includes international presenters on a range of topics in its courses, including malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, freedom of the press, ethics in journalism and even how to set up a radio station.

"I have done this year three other trainings on avian influenza in West and East Africa with incredible success," he said, "and I have learned in the process that this was a good model as long as we incorporated experts from all the partners working on the same topic."

"The workshop was really useful for me," said attendee Humira Ghamgusar, from the Arezoo radio and television station in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. "Now I know that influenza is one thing and bird flu is another thing. Before, we thought they were the same. And now I know how I can teach my viewers, my readers what they should do to affect this disease."

AVIAN FLU MINISTERIAL

The New Delhi ministerial, hosted by the government of India in collaboration with the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, is the major international conference on avian flu in 2007 and the fifth such meeting since 2005.

"This in itself," reads a letter to ministerial attendees by Sharad Pawar, India's minister of agriculture, and Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, minister of health and family welfare, "demonstrates global concern over the geographical spread of avian influenza in animals and the challenge posed to health care structures as the threat of a pandemic continues to hang over the world."

"We're here because we want to elevate the avian influenza issue on national agendas," Ambassador John Lange, head of the U.S. delegation, and special representative for avian and pandemic influenza at the State Department, told the journalists December 3, the last day of the workshop.

"We want to coordinate the effort among nations that are most affected by this as well as donor governments," said Lange, who was joined at the workshop by Kent Hill, assistant administrator for global health at the U.S. Agency for International Development; Dr. Daniel Miller, head of the International Influenza Unit at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and other members of the delegation.

Lange said the United States hopes to increase transparency in disease reporting, improve flu and other disease surveillance, and engage in long-term capacity-building to identify, contain and respond to these matters in an avian influenza outbreak and the possibility of a human influenza pandemic.

"All the efforts of the international community on H5N1," Hill said, "will help us with respect to any pandemic that comes along because it's all about how we interact with animals, how we set up our surveillance systems, how we prepare for response, how we deal with containment and how we learn and commit ourselves to transparency."

The United States, which has contributed $434 million to its international effort against avian flu, hopes to mobilize more resources during the New Delhi ministerial.

"On Thursday [December 6]," Lange said, "I will announce a new U.S. government pledge to this effort in terms of our international assistance."

ENDS

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