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Health Experts Discuss Action Plan to Contain Flu Pandemic


A conference on how best to respond to outbreaks of bird flu has concluded in Japan. The organizers want to be prepared to contain an emerging human influenza pandemic.

The 130 delegates from 22 countries came up with an action plan they say could, under the right circumstances, contain the initial eruption of a pandemic of the H5N1 virus or another type of influenza.

World Health Organization regional Director Shigeru Omi, speaking at a news conference at the conclusion of the two-day meeting, said adequate surveillance to detect a human-to-human outbreak of bird flu and a rapid response are just two of the elements critical to preventing a pandemic.

"Vaccination alone will not work," he said. "Anti-viral drugs will not. Containment alone will not work. I think we have to make use of all the possible options, starting from the public awareness and increasing surveillance and quick response, which includes culling operations [and] poultry vaccination in selected areas."

Asked to identify countries or regions the WHO is most concerned about - especially regarding lack of trained personnel, equipment and funding - Omi mentioned Laos and Cambodia.

Omi also said some countries, which he declined to name, need to be more transparent about animal and human cases of H5 viruses, and deliver the information in a "more timely, consistent and systematic manner."

The conference - jointly sponsored by the Japanese government and the WHO - did not focus on funding. That will be the theme of a donor's conference next week in Beijing. But there were significant announcements while the Tokyo meeting was under way.

The World Bank on Thursday said it would allocate $500 million for pandemic preparedness.

Pharmaceutical company Roche, the Swiss maker of the drug Tamiflu, on Friday said it would work through the WHO to donate more of the anti-viral medicine. That would be in addition to the 30 million capsules it has already given to the organization's rapid response stockpile. The drug is thought to be the best defense to prevent people from getting seriously ill from the H5N1 strain.

The European Union on Friday said it will not fund the stockpiling of drugs, but is likely to commit $100 million for efforts to improve animal health. But Ambassador Takahiro Shinyo of the Global Affairs Department of Japan's Foreign Ministry announced his country would provide 500,000 Tamiflu doses for Asia.

"As to how to distribute this and where this should be stockpiled, that has not been concluded yet," he said.

Asia, so far, has been hardest hit by bird flu, where more than 70 people have died since late 2003. But concern is mounting with the first human deaths reported this week in Turkey.

The WHO says about $1.5 billion will be needed over three years to adequately prepare for a potential pandemic.

So far, people have almost always been infected with the H5N1 virus through contact with sick birds. But scientists say the increasing number of human cases is making it more likely that the virus could mutate into a form that could easily spread among humans, and possibly kill millions of people.

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