US officials launch regional stockpile to fight H5N1 in Asia

Mar 25, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The first of three US-funded supply stockpiles aimed at helping authorities in Asia stamp out avian influenza outbreaks opened near Bangkok today.

Eric John, the US ambassador to Thailand, spoke at a ceremony to open a Regional Distribution Center (RDC) in Chachoengsao province, in eastern Thailand, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today.

"The RDC will help ensure that countries in Asia will be able to take fast action to counter avian influenza without endangering the lives of rapid-response teams," he said, according to the AFP report.

The stockpile, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), initially contains 45,000 protective suits, 400 decontamination suits, 10 laboratory specimen kits, and other equipment totaling $548,300, AFP reported.

USAID officials said the supplies, stored in a warehouse near Bangkok's international airport, could be airlifted to affected areas within 24 hours, according to a report today from the Associated Press (AP).

John MacArthur, USAID's infectious disease adviser for the Asian region, said at the opening ceremony that continuing outbreaks in the region raise the risk of the H5N1 virus mutating into a form that could be transmitted among humans, the AP reported. Vietnam and China have reported several H5N1 outbreaks in poultry flocks over the past few months, and Laos recently reported a fresh outbreak near the border with China and Myanmar.

On Mar 18, officials from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said they were deeply concerned that high viral loads circulating among birds in Indonesia are creating fertile grounds for H5N1 virus mutation.

According to the US State Department, as of late November 2007, US assistance for international efforts to combat avian influenza had reached $98 million of the pledged amount of $434 million. At a donors conference held in New Delhi in December, the United States pledged an additional $195 million to fight H5N1 avian flu, according to a previous report.

See also:

Dec 7, 2007, CIDRAP News story "Donors pledge $406 million to fight avian flu"

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