Teamwork pivotal to fight against avian flu

By Hu Yinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-18 06:30

China and ASEAN are considering an information exchange and notification mechanism to fight avian flu and communicable diseases, a senior health official said yesterday.

The proposal was put forward at the first China-ASEAN symposium on human infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which opened in Beijing yesterday.

The idea is to facilitate the sharing of information, improve capacity building, and strengthen cross-border institutional and operational coordination, Wang Longde, China's vice-health minister, said.

It is expected to bridge some major intra-regional gaps, which, according to a written statement by ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, include those "in the early warning system, rapid response and containment capacity, vaccine strategy, maintaining essential services and multi-sectoral coordination".

A draft will be put to discussion today for delegates from the World Health Organization (WHO), the ASEAN Secretariat, China and ASEAN countries. If passed, it will be submitted to the 2nd China-ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting, which will be held sometime next year.

Sponsored by the Ministry of Health and organized by China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the seminar is a follow-up to Premier Wen Jiabao's proposal to the 10th ASEAN-China Leaders' Summit held in the Philippines this January.

Five ASEAN countries - namely, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos - and China are home to 80 percent of the world's reported cases of human infection with HPAI, Wang said.

There were 318 HPAI cases reported between the end of 2003 and July 11, 2007 in 13 countries and regions, with a 60 percent fatality rate and a median age of 18 years, according to WHO epidemiologist Nima Asgari.

The median duration of illness is four days from onset to hospitalization, and another five days until death, he said.

While "all ASEAN Member Countries have formulated their respective national pandemic preparedness and response plans", Ong's statement said "the fight against the diseases must go on and with greater vigilance".

ASEAN member states have already developed a joint action plan in various areas on animal health. As for public health, ASEAN and China are in the second phase of the ASEAN+3 emerging infectious diseases (EID) program to strengthen regional coordination and communication.

China has intensified cooperation with its ASEAN neighbors on HPAI monitoring and prevention in recent years. Among other joint initiatives, public health was added to the list of "important spheres of collaboration" between China and ASEAN nations in 2005.

There have been 25 human cases of H5N1 bird flu virus reported in China since 2003, causing 15 deaths.

(China Daily 07/18/2007 page2)

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