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Flu Storm Brewing Warns UN's World Health Org

Brewing Flu Pandemic Could Be Catastrophic Unless World Prepares – UN Agency

There will be another influenza pandemic and failure to prepare for it appropriately will have “catastrophic consequences,” the head of the United Nations health agency warned today, calling for national control plans worldwide and massive international collaboration to prevent the potential deaths of millions of people.

“There is a storm brewing that will test us all. We must anticipate it and prepare to the very best of our combined ability,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook told ministers of health from throughout the Americas, noting that the next pandemic will likely spring from the current Asian bird flu outbreak.

Addressing the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) 46th Directing Council meeting in Washington, he called on the ministers to support the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza launched recently by United States President George W. Bush at the United Nations General Assembly.

“This initiative needs full international cooperation if it is to fulfil its aims. I ask you all to sign up and give it your active support,” he said.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, has sparked fears that it could mutate into a worldwide human pandemic, in a worst case scenario killing tens of millions of people, ever since the most recent outbreak erupted in South-East Asia in January last year.

“Forecasts indicate that the political, social and economic costs of such a pandemic will be huge. I cannot emphasize this enough. Failure to take this threat seriously and prepare appropriately will have catastrophic consequences,” Dr. Lee said.

“Every country must have a national pandemic control plan. Every country must also have a communications strategy. It should be ready and able to inform the public about the pandemic, what is happening and what to do. Massive international collaboration is now needed on the advance preparation of global antiviral stockpiles and pandemic vaccine development,” he added.

Citing past flu pandemics that killed millions of people, Dr. Lee noted that the 1957 and 1968 flu pandemics originated as bird flu viruses. “It is also likely that the next flu pandemic will emerge from one of the countries that has avian flu infection in its bird populations,” he said, adding that the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus is now entrenched in several parts of Asia and is moving further afield to Kazakhstan and Russia.

Overall, there have been some 120 reported human H5N1 cases, about 60 of them fatal, all in South-East Asia, since January 2004. Some 140 million domestic birds have died or been culled in an effort to curb the spread.

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