News / Africa

WHO: Balanced Approach for New Bird Flu Virus Strain

An Indonesian man helps  health officials cull poultry in the village where a 14-year-old boy died of bird flu Thursday Jan. 11, 2007,  on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia.  (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
An Indonesian man helps health officials cull poultry in the village where a 14-year-old boy died of bird flu Thursday Jan. 11, 2007, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
TEXT SIZE - +
Joe DeCapua

In 2011, scientists discovered they had created a highly contagious and deadly form of H5N1 – commonly called avian or bird flu. When the discovery was announced, debate erupted over whether the research was ethical and fears the new strain could be used as a bioterrorism weapon. Now, the World Health Organization has weighed in on the issue.

The WHO said it is deeply concerned about the potential consequences of the research that can make H5N1 more contagious among humans. At the same time, it said “studies conducted under appropriate conditions must continue” so critical knowledge can be gained on reducing the risks posed by the virus.

Assistant Director-General Dr. Keiji Fukuda said debate continues to swirl even though the findings have not yet been published or reviewed by the WHO.

“They’ve received an extraordinary amount of attention, I think, both in the popular press and the scientific world. A lot of the general issues raised by the papers are reasonably clear. For example, how do you weigh the risks of doing a certain kind of research versus the benefits? What are the right procedures and processes that need to be in place? These are fairly fundamental issues for science in general and public health,” he said.

Extra bit of fire

Laboratories in the Netherlands, Japan and the United States developed the new strain of avian flu.

“When you add the fact you’re dealing with the H5N1 virus, which is one of the most dangerous viruses around, then it adds that extra bit of fire to the discussion. And so, we’ve been following this and monitoring it pretty closely,” said Fukuda.

Over the years, millions of birds, including poultry, have been killed to prevent the spread of the flu.

“Now there’s a lot of influenza viruses which generally infect only birds and this is one of them. But this one stands out because in addition to infecting birds, it also has the ability to infect a wide range of mammals, including humans. Now it does not infect humans very often, but when it does this virus has consistently been about 50 to 60 percent lethal. So it has an extraordinarily high killing rate,” he said.

Fukuda described H5N1 as raising the biggest concern about causing a pandemic. He says that’s why the recent research has raised so much attention.

“While this particular situation is focusing a lot of attention on the risks of bioterrorism, dual use technology and those kinds of questions, which are important, we also want to make sure that we all take a balanced approach to this. So we have to make sure that research continues. We have to make sure that when research is done the risks to people are as minimum as possible,” he said.

PIP

In May 2011, all World Health Organization member states adopted the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, or PIP for short. It’s a guide for sharing virus samples and resulting research benefits. In other words, if a virus with the potential for causing a pandemic is found in a poor country, PIP helps ensure that country benefits when a vaccine or treatment is developed. That was not always the case in the past. Some developing nations lost out because the vaccines or drugs were too expensive.

The WHO assistant director-general said such guidelines should be applied to research involving the new H5N1 strain.

“In the overall scheme of things, when you look at public health and how we’re hopefully better at protecting people, making sure that scientific research continues and addresses the critical issues out there (and) fills the gaps in knowledge is absolutely essential. If we don’t have that happen, then we’re always going to be behind the curve and we know that,” he said.

In the meantime, Fukuda said the natural forms of H5N1 continue to be found in a number of countries, such as Egypt and Indonesia. The new form of the virus is currently under the control of the researchers in a few laboratories. One scientist, who helped develop the new strain, says if H5N1 can be made more transmissible in the lab, it can also happen in nature.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid