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Thailand Puts Flu Cooperation on ASEAN Foreign Ministers'  Agenda


Thailand plans to call for stepped up cooperation from regional governments to contain the spread of the H1N1 flu. The Thai government will present the issue at an annual gathering of foreign ministers from Southeast Asia and the region's main partners.

The Thai government says it wants Asian governments to collectively buy anti-viral medications to ensure lower cost and wider distribution.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will have the idea put on the table at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional forum, which will be held next week on the Thai island of Phuket.

Buranaj Samuttarak is the spokesman for Mr. Abhisit's Democrat Party.

"It is clearly a common challenge that needs to be addressed on a global level," Buranaj said. "And one thing Mr. Abhisit has been very keen on addressing is to try to find avenues of collective action. For example, in trying to ensure that vaccines are provided and access if guaranteed as well as access to antiviral medication."

But Buranaj says a key challenge appears to be ensuring the spread of the H1N1 flu is contained. Another issue is avoiding the overuse of medications that could make the virus more drug resistant.

The call for broader cooperation comes as the Thai government this week approved a $25-million budget for vaccines and anti-viral drugs to fight H1N1 virus. At least 25 people in Thailand have died of the virus, and more than 4,000 cases have been reported here.

The virus, also known as swine flu, was first identified in Mexico earlier this year and has since spread around the world. The World Health Organization reports there have been about 100,000 confirmed cases, with around 500 deaths, but experts say there have probably have been tens of thousands of other cases.

The Thai government has closed schools and other facilities in Bangkok to try to slow the spread of the virus.

The ASEAN Regional Forum draws together the foreign ministers of the 10 ASEAN states, as well as those from countries such as Australia, China, India and the United States.

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