Monday, April 19, 2010

Ministers gather in Vietnam to discuss pandemic influenza responses

Updated April 20, 2010 10:50:52

The World Health Organisation has warned the H1N1 swine flu pandemic might not be conquered until next year and that continued vigilance is necessary against the mutating virus. The WHO's director-general Margaret Chan says while countries may have a strong defence against swine flu, they still remain ill-prepared for mass outbreaks of the deadlier bird flu virus. Hundreds of international government and health officials are in Vietnam this week for an international ministerial conference to discuss animal and pandemic influenza.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Dr Julie Hall, senior technical adviser for the UN System Influenza Coordination

HALL: The key purpose is to really keep the focus on animal and pandemic influenzas that are of a significant threat to animals and to humans around the world. And the purpose of the conference is to discuss what is the way forward to ensure that we can sustain the efforts that we have made to keep avian influenza in as fewer countries as possible and try and push that virus back so that it no longer is a threat to poultry populations or to humans. And what more do we need to do to ensure that the world is well prepared to tackle a pandemic, and as WHO has said the current pandemic that is likely to continue for some time to come.

LAM: So we're not out of the woods yet even though the efforts as you say have been quite robust?

HALL: That's correct, I mean there's been some remarkable achievements both on the bird flu and for pandemic preparedness and an unprecedented global response to the pandemic that we're seeing. But we're most certainly not out of the woods with either of those problems, nor are we out of the woods in terms of other influenza viruses or other viruses that could potentially pose threats to human populations into the future. And as we've seen from the volcanic ash eruption, we do as a world, as a global community have to be prepared for sudden and unexpected events because in our global community now we're very inter-connected, and an event in one country quickly becomes a threat and event in other countries. And so that's why it's so important that we have over 70 countries represented at the conference today and tomorrow, and they are discussing how the global community we can draw together to build on the achievements that we have and to continue to strengthen our ability as an internatonal community to fight these kinds of infectious disease threats.

LAM: Well in terms of bird flu and possibly even swine flu, Asia remains the worst affected region. Is that because more people keep livestock like poultry in their backyards in Asia?

HALL: That's correct, we know that from history that where you have high density, lots of people living very closely with domestic animals and wild animals, that's where you're more likely to get diseases emerging in animals and then jumping into human species. That said though, we saw from the pandemic influenza this year that these types of threats really can come from anywhere in the world, and occur at any time. So Asia in some ways has the disadvantage of those large and growing human and animal populations, but at the same time Asia we have seen has mounted a very robust response to the pandemic when it occured because there have been so many preparations for bird flu in this region, systems have been strengthened so much because of that experience, and that certainly gave Asia an advantage when the pandemic emerged in that many countries in Asia were far more prepared for that than they would have been five to ten years ago.

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