WHO sets meeting on flu pandemic containment

Mar 3, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Public health experts will meet in Geneva next week to continue developing the World Health Organization's (WHO's) draft plan for quick action to head off a potential influenza pandemic.

The WHO announced the meeting as a Hong Kong official reported another possible human case of H5N1 avian flu in China, involving a 32-year-old man who died yesterday.

The WHO released a draft rapid-response plan at a Tokyo meeting in January. More than 30 experts in epidemiology, virology, public health, laboratory issues, and other disciplines will meet Mar 6 through 8 in Geneva to continue work on the plan, the WHO announced today.

Officials said the meeting would focus on three areas: operations (logistics), surveillance and epidemiology, and public health measures, such as quarantines, antiviral treatment, and social distancing, the agency said.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said the purpose of the meeting is "to decide who—the WHO, its members nations and its partners—would do what in the event of a pandemic," according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report published today.

Many experts are skeptical that stopping an emerging pandemic is possible, and the WHO has acknowledged that it will be very difficult at best.

"Even if the pandemic cannot be stopped, public health interventions might buy time to allow countries to further strengthen their response systems, as well as accelerating the production of pandemic vaccine," the agency said today.

The WHO draft plan released in January called for completion of the strategy in time to allow training of rapid-response teams to begin in May.

In Hong Kong today, a health department official said a 32-year-old man died of suspected avian flu yesterday in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, according to an AFP report today.

The man had fallen ill with a fever and pneumonia on Feb 22, a spokesman for Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection was quoted as saying. He said China's health ministry and the Guangdong provincial health department had told Hong Kong that the man had a suspected case of avian flu.

If confirmed, the case would be China's 15th human case of avian flu and 9th death.

The report came a day after Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu warned that China could face more human cases and poultry outbreaks of avian flu this spring.

Elsewhere, Azerbaijan today reported its first outbreak of H5N1 flu in farm poultry, according to an AFP report. The virus was first reported in wild birds in Azerbaijan 3 weeks ago.

Agriculture Minister Ismet Abbassov said about 500,000 birds had already been killed in an effort to contain the poultry outbreak, AFP reported.

Also today, the Netherlands-based environmental organization Wetlands International accused five countries of refusing to cooperate with its efforts to study H5N1 flu in wild birds, according to another AFP report.

The organization said Sudan, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran, and Nigeria have refused to admit research teams, the story said. The group blamed the countries' reluctance on fear of the possible effects on poultry exports and tourism if infected birds were found.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has commissioned Wetlands International and the French agricultural research center Cirad to study H5N1 among wild birds in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, according to AFP.

"It becomes harder to predict new outbreaks and to take the right precautions if we don't know the situation in these important countries," Wetlands International was quoted as saying.

See also:

Mar 3 WHO announcement
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2006/np04/en/index.html

Jan 27 CIDRAP News story "WHO issues rapid-response plan for flu pandemic"

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