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Health Experts Agree on Plan to Combat Flu Pandemic

More than 600 delegates from over 100 countries attending a global influenza meeting have agreed on a plan of action to combat a potential human pandemic. The animal and human health experts say it is urgent to prepare now for a pandemic that could kill millions of people. The three-day meeting was co-sponsored by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Bank.

The delegates say it is urgent to act now. Once a pandemic virus appears, they say it will be too late.

U.N. Influenza Coordinator David Nabarro says the meeting has given momentum to the global effort to prevent a human influenza pandemic from becoming a reality. He says there is much better coordination now among countries and a greater understanding of the need to share critical information.

"And, most importantly, all the countries that are now involved in this activity are going to give it much greater impetus," Mr. Nabarro says. "I think we will be quicker to control avian influenza as a result. And, I think that if the pandemic starts, there is a pretty good chance, it will be smaller as a result of the work that we have done over the last three days than it would have been otherwise."

The plan of action emphasizes the need to minimize the threat of disease to both animals and humans through rapid reduction of the deadly H5N1 virus. Samuel Jutzi is director of Animal Production and Health at the Food and Agriculture Organization. He says getting rid of the virus in domestic poultry should be the first line of defense.

"If sufficient political will is there to shore up the necessary resources to do that, then we believe that the likelihood of a human influenza pandemic can be very substantially reduced, if not avoided, stemming from H5N1," he says.

Dr. Jutzi says FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health will need 500 million dollars to fight the disease in animals over the next three years.

The plan also calls for early warning and surveillance systems to detect disease outbreak in animals and humans.

The Head of the World Health Organization's Pandemic Influenza Program, Margaret Chan, says it is essential that all nations share critical information quickly and transparently.

"Then, that would trigger off the action in these international organizations which can rally those world's resources and the experts through our existing networks to bring to bear the kind of actions that is needed to nip the problem at the bud," she says.

The World Bank plans to provide one billion dollars to pandemic programs. Half of the money would go toward animal health and half to human health. World Bank Vice-President for Operations, James Adams, says he expects donors will support this program given the global nature of the problem.

"What happens in China and Vietnam is not only going to affect China and Vietnam, but it will affect neighboring countries," Mr. Adams says. "And, I think as has been demonstrated by the movement of the virus that in fact Europe, Eastern Europe has been infected. We are quite concerned…given the migratory paths of birds, we are quite concerned about Africa, although Africa has not been hit yet."

The experts say they urgently need money to carry out their anti-flu pandemic programs. The United Nations is organizing a big fund-raising conference in mid-January in Beijing.