Asian officials discuss ways to arrest a pandemic

Jan 13, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Delegates from about 20 Asian countries today concluded a 2-day meeting in Tokyo focusing on early response measures to use if avian influenza shows signs of evolving into a human flu pandemic.

The delegates issued a statement saying two of the key priorities include increasing laboratory capacity and building public awareness of the risks, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. The meeting was sponsored by Japan and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The statement said Asian countries need to "strengthen national capacities to detect and respond to the earliest signals of a potential pandemic and any other public health emergency," according to a report by the Chinese news service Xinhua.

Keiji Fukuda, a WHO flu expert, said the delegates also called for setting up a global task force of public health and bird flu experts to make "independent assessments of a possible pandemic to help improve quality control in decision-making," according to the Xinhua story.

The WHO has suggested it may be possible to halt an emerging flu pandemic if the signs are detected early enough. But many flu experts are skeptical that this could be done.

In opening remarks prepared for the conference, Shigeru Omi, the WHO's Western Pacific Region director, said, "We must try to ensure that we will be ready to respond instantly with all the weapons at our disposal should the early signs of an influenza pandemic appear. If we can achieve this rapid response, we may have a good chance of halting the spread of the virus or at least slowing it down."

Meanwhile, AFP reported today that H5N1 avian flu has been confirmed in the case of a 29-year-old Indonesian woman who died Jan 11. But the WHO has not cited the case on its Web site, and few, if any, other news services have mentioned it.

The AFP story quoted the WHO's Sari Setiogi as saying that tests at a WHO-accredited laboratory in Hong Kong had confirmed an earlier Indonesian finding that the woman had the virus. If confirmed as H5N1, the case would be Indonesia's 17th case and 12th death.

The woman had been hospitalized for 3 days before her death, the story said. A hospital spokesman said she had had contact with dead chickens belonging to her neighbor in Jakarta.

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