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WHO: Still Time to Prevent Bird Flu Pandemic


The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) says if countries heed the warning and make preparations, there may be a possibility of nipping bird flu in the bud. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, says all 192 WHO member states have some kind of avian-influenza preparedness plan in the works. She says this marks definite progress over two years ago when only 50 countries were preparing for a bird flu pandemic.

But, Dr. Chan says there is a global shortage of medical and other supplies that would be needed to fight the H5N1 bird-flu virus.

She says populations that have not had previous infections would lack antibodies needed to protect them against new infections. From past experience, she says, it is believed about 20 percent of a country's population would be affected.

"So, any population. I mean in a 10 million population if there were 20 percent, 2 million people would be affected at different stages," sge saud, "And then also, the severity of the disease would range from mild disease to very severe disease. So, I just put it to you, it would be a big challenge for any country to have the right kind of manpower and the right kind of amount of medical and other supplies to deal with a situation like this."

Dr. Chan says governments must share any information they have in a transparent and timely manner with the World Health Organization.

Avian influenza is still a largely animal disease. Only people who have been in close and unprotected contact with sick birds have become infected with the H5N1 virus. The big concern is that the virus might mutate into a form that could be transmitted from one human to another.

Dr. Chan notes advances in information technology in science and some of the modeling done by experts show the worst could possibly be prevented.

"There is a possibility if we note it well in advance and if given the conditions are suitable, there may be a chance for us to nip it in the bud," she added. "That would be extremely valuable. We have never tried that in history. We may be seeing a pandemic unfolding in front of our eyes. So, it is incumbent upon all of us to try our very best to catch it as early as possible and hopefully nip it in the bud."

The WHO chief says she does not know whether this strategy will be successful. Given the devastating impact a bird-flu pandemic would have on human life and the world economy, she says, it would be irresponsible not to try.

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