Sep 20, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – A new project to help improve control strategies for avian influenza has been initiated in eight Asian countries, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) announced yesterday.
The project, funded by a $7.7 million grant from the Japanese government, will be implemented in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. The OIE said the effort has shifted into "full operational mode."
The "OIE/Japan Special Trust Fund Project on Avian Influenza Control in Asia" includes plans to boost early warning and rapid response systems by developing national disease information sharing systems and to update national and regional contingency plans for controlling H5N1 avian influenza.
Other activities include epidemiologic training for field veterinarians and outfitting up to 17 laboratories with new equipment in the eight countries to bolster diagnostic capabilities.
In other news, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a "road map" yesterday to help governments in the Asia-Pacific region prepare for emerging infectious diseases such as avian flu, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.
Called the Asian Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases, the road map advises countries on how to prevent, detect, and respond to these diseases. The document was released by the WHO's Western Pacific regional office in Manila, AFP reported.
"In the early stages of a potential pandemic, it may be possible to stop or delay the spread of the virus by swiftly implementing pandemic influenza rapid response and containment measures," said WHO Acting Regional Director Richard Nesbit in announcing the road map, as quoted by AFP.
But rapid globalization, urbanization, and increased cross-border travel will make it more challenging to implement such measures, he said.
A WHO study conducted in 2004-05 showed that most countries in the region did not have adequate systems to contain a pandemic based on, according to AFP.
Nesbit also said the risk of an avian flu pandemic "continues unabated," according to a Wall Street Journal article published yesterday. Speaking at a week-long WHO conference in Auckland, New Zealand, Nesbit said that while the public may get tired of hearing that a global outbreak could happen at any moment, he is obligated to keep sending that message.
Countries need to remain cautious even though the world is experiencing a "down period" of H5N1 cases, said WHO Acting Director-General Anders Nordstrom, who is also attending the conference, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"We will have a pandemic," Nordstrom was quoted as saying in the article. "The question is when and how severe it will be."
Sep 19 OIE news release