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Crisis Centre Launched To Combat Bird Flu

New UN Crisis Centre Launched To Combat Spread Of Bird Flu And Other Animal Diseases

New York, Oct 12 2006 11:00AM

Rapid response specialists will be on deck around the clock seven days a week to fight bird flu outbreaks and other major animal health or food health-related emergencies anywhere in the world at a new Crisis Management Centre (CMC) launched by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today.

“One of the lessons FAO has learned in three years of leading the international fight against Avian Influenza is that speed is of the essence,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said at the CMC’s inauguration at the Agency’s Rome headquarters. “Alert must be lightning-quick. Reaction must be immediate in combating a disease which can move across borders and continents terrifyingly fast.

Set up in collaboration with the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the Centre brings rapid-response capacity to transboundary animal and plant diseases, and can also react quickly to emergencies involving plant pests or food safety.

Supported by advanced communications technology and operating with a staff of up to 15 specialists and veterinarians who continuously monitor and update disease information from around the globe, the CMC can dispatch its experts to any hotspot in the world in under 48 hours of a suspected outbreak.

“The CMC represents a significant leap forward in FAO’s ability to help Member Nations prevent and cope with disease outbreaks,” Mr Diouf said. “Three years into the Avian Influenza crisis, FAO and the international community can draw some satisfaction, and some relief, in the progress made to contain a most deadly menace to the health of animals and humans across the globe.

“But despite the encouraging and very real progress made, it does not mean we can lower our guard. Only when H5N1 (the bird flu virus) has been totally eradicated will the Sword of Damocles, or more pessimistically the time-bomb, of a human pandemic be removed,” he warned.

Experts fear H5N1 could mutate, gaining the ability to pass from person to person and, in a worst case scenario, unleashing a deadly human pandemic similar to the so-called Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 that is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide by the time it had run its course two years later.

Mr. Diouf noted that although the disease remains a potent threat in Indonesia and Africa, and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus are still vulnerable, the situation has improved elsewhere.

The CMC is headed by former Chief Veterinary Officer of Germany Karin Schwabenbauer.

ends

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