The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has launched a rapid response center to deal with bird flu and other diseases. It?s called the Crisis Management Center, or CMC, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It operates in collaboration with the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health.

Dr. Juan Lubroth is the senior officer for the FAO?s Animal Health Service.  From Rome, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the CMC.

?It?s not only to fight the highly pathogenic avian influenza, the bird flu, but also other trans-boundary animal diseases, or even the possibility of a plant disease or any sort of food security emergency. Of course, the most prominent problem today is bird flu,? he says. 

The CMC, which he says acts as a think tank involving various experts, can respond to an outbreak between 24 and 72 hours. The timing of the response depends on local government cooperation.

As for the spread of bird flu over the past few years, Dr. Lubroth says, ?A few years ago, we had only the disease in Southeast Asia. Today we have it in other parts of the world and it has spilled over into Europe and Africa and the Middle East. And I think superficially you can say, well yes, geographically the disease has extended. But the number of deaths in the poultry sector or the number of humans, although still escalating, is not at the same rate as it was in 2003 or 2004. Some exceptions, yes. But I do think that there is a lid on the situation. That countries are much more aware.?

However, he says the necessary money and resources must be given to fight bird flu for at least the next 10 years.

Dr. Lubroth warns of the dangers of the H5N1 virus. ?We have never seen a highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses behave the way H5N1has. Usually, they?ve been limited to a national outbreak with rapid control. This particular virus, we have never seen such a virus gain such geographical ground over a time period. Yes, H5N1 is a new virus that we need to understand better.?