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UN Opens Disease Emergency Center in Rome


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization on Thursday inaugurated a new Crisis Management Center to fight avian influenza outbreaks and other major animal health or food health-related emergencies.

FAO's director general, Dr. Jacques Diouf, said that in the three years since the beginning of the avian influenza crisis, the international community can report some progress in the effort to contain the deadly menace to animals and humans across the globe.

But speaking at the launch of the new Crisis Management Center to combat bird flu and other animal diseases, he stressed that while progress has been made, the international community cannot lower its guard.

Diouf said bird flu continues to be a potent threat in Indonesia and Africa, as well as in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. The new center, he added, is of utmost importance because the fight will probably have to go on for at least another decade.

"Speed is of the essence," he said. "Alert must be lightening quick. Reaction must be immediate in combating a disease, which can move across borders and continents terrifyingly fast."

The FAO director general added that the new center is designed to respond immediately to any suspected outbreak of avian influenza at the request of any of our member nations. He explained how it will work.

"Staffed by between six and 15 specialists and veterinarians, manned round the clock seven days a week, supported by the most up-to-date communications technology, it can have a team of experts on the ground anywhere in the world between 24 and 48 hours," he said.

The H5-N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 148 people worldwide since outbreaks in Asia three years ago. Diouf said the aim of the center is not only to respond quickly to new outbreaks of avian influenza, but also to deal with other animal diseases that often pose a mortal threat to humans.

"Although it will initially focus on avian influenza, it will serve our members' needs even more broadly by bringing the same rapid response capacity to all trans-boundary diseases and pests of plants and animals as well as food safety emergencies," he noted.

The new center has been financed by donations from several nations, including the United States, which gave $5.1 million toward the establishment of the new center.

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