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Health Officials Call for Regional Stockpiles of Medicines to Counter Epidemics

Health officials from more than 100 countries have called for regional stockpiling of drugs and vaccines to deal with outbreaks of diseases such as bird flu. Participants at a meeting in Thailand also called for measures to address new health challenges in an evolving world.

More than 700 delegates Thursday ended a conference on global health promotion, saying that new approaches are needed to deal with rising challenges caused by globalization and new illnesses.

One of the organizers, Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus of the World Health Organization, says that since the group first met 19 years ago, many new factors have begun affecting people's health.

"We have new health challenges, not only the classic communicable diseases, but also the growing burden of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases," said Catherine Le Gales-Camus.

She warned that these threats, which also include smoking, alcohol and poor diet, are rising in the developing world, which has fewer resources with which to fight them.

Delegates at the weeklong conference adopted what they call the Bangkok Charter, which calls for greater coordination of public policy and new investment. It also urges more partnerships between governments, international organizations, community groups and the private sector.

Delegates also agreed in principle to create regional stockpiles of drugs and vaccines to deal with outbreaks of communicable diseases such as avian flu. This virus has killed more than 60 people and tens of millions of chickens in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. The disease, which is spread by migrating wild birds, has recently been found in central Asia, Russia and parts of China.

Thailand's Health Minister, Dr. Suchai Charoenratanakul says governments must share data and technical support, and rush drugs to countries that do not have access to them.

"The most important thing is that every [all] countries have to work together and set up the network and get rid of the infection as soon as possible, whenever it happens in any part of the world," said Suchai Charoenratanakul.

Avian flu to date has only infected a few people who had contact with sick birds, but scientists fear that it could change into a form the moves from human to human, causing a global epidemic.

Several governments in Europe and the America have begun stockpiling the only medicine known to be effective against bird flu. But many countries in Asia are having difficulty obtaining the medicine because it is expensive and in short supply.