US, Institut Pasteur team up for flu virus surveillance

Feb 21, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The US government recently agreed to collaborate with France's Institut Pasteur (IP) on efforts to increase the world's ability to detect influenza viruses that could lead to a human flu pandemic.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will set up a joint working group with IP to oversee the collaboration, which will focus initially on Southeast Asia, HHS announced on Feb 6. IP is a private, nonprofit foundation with an international network of centers working to prevent and treat infectious diseases.

HHS said initial plans under the agreement include:

  • Building capacity for surveillance, epidemiologic investigation, testing, diagnosis, and control of infectious diseases in countries affected by and at risk for the spread of H5N1 avian flu
  • Exchanging technical expertise to promote rapid response to disease threats
  • Disseminating effective and accurate public information on infectious diseases in developing countries, including messages in local languages

A memorandum establishing the collaboration was signed Feb 6 by HHS Deputy Secretary Alex M. Azar and IP President Alice Dautry.

"This partnership will substantially strengthen the capacity to prepare for and respond to a pandemic in countries where avian influenza is now endemic in poultry and where human infections and deaths have occurred," Azar said in the HHS announcement. "We are very pleased to partner with IP, an internationally respected research institute with such an impressive global network of institutes."

Avian flu and other respiratory diseases have been a major concern of IP, said Dautry, as quoted in the HHS news release. "We have laid a heavy focus on them since 2004 and heartily welcome this new partnership with HHS to fight the potential pandemic."

HHS spokesman Bill Hall told CIDRAP News the agreement provides for the sharing of information and other resources related to avian flu and pandemic planning.

"To my knowledge there's not a specific project that’s now under way" under the pact, though projects will evolve, Hall said. "We'll be sharing staff people who may go to IP to work in their labs and learn what they're doing, and sharing information back and forth. We may make use of IP labs in Southeast Asia so we don’t have to build our own labs."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be a "primary component" of HHS involved in the collaboration, but it will involve other agencies as well, such as the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, Hall said.

He said no money is changing hands under the agreement at this point. "It's an agreement that says we'll work closely together because we have common goals and have resources that complement each other. At this point there's no money involved."

The agreement stems from a tour of Southeast Asia in October 2005 by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and an international delegation of health experts, according to HHS. During that trip and subsequent negotiations, HHS and IP developed a plan to collaborate on avian flu containment and surveillance efforts in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Stewart Simonson, assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness, led the negotiations for HHS.

See also:

HHS news release
http://archive.hhs.gov/news/press/2006pres/20060206.html

Institut Pasteur site
http://www.pasteur.fr/english.html

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