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Officials, Experts Wind Up Bird Flu Conference in Thailand - 2004-01-28

Asian ministers and international health experts are ending a meeting in Thailand aimed at halting the spread of the bird flu virus. The virus has killed two people in Thailand and eight people in Vietnam and forced governments to kill millions of chicken across the region.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Wednesday opened the meeting telling delegates that a regional solution is needed for such a widespread problem. "To contain a fast spreading virus, countries need to respond promptly and with transparency, obtain reliable scientific data and share information," said the Thai leader.

Mr. Thaksin says the bird flu virus poses not only a grave economic threat, but also a serious threat to public health, a reference to humans who have contracted the disease after contact with infected birds.

Governments around Asia are rushing to cull millions of potentially infected chickens, leaving thousands of farmers and workers jobless.

The Thai government, which has been accused of reacting slowly to the virus until it was widespread, has acknowledged that it made mistakes. But Mr. Thaksin urged delegates to put these behind them and learn the lessons from last year's epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed nearly 800 people.

United Nations health agencies warn that bird flu could be more devastating than the SARS outbreak if the virus changes and begins passing from human to human.

Peter Cordingly, a representative of the World Health Organization, said the world community must mobilize to generate the vast resources needed to contain the disease. "We need money. We need technology. We need all kinds of resources. We need personnel. We are at the beginning of a big building process," he said.

Wednesday's meeting brought together experts from international organizations, health and livestock ministers from the 10 Asian nations with bird flu cases and from Singapore and Hong Kong, which so far have no bird flu. The European Union and the United States also sent delegates.