10/26/2005, 00.00

More birds infected in China but world leaders have few suggestions

There is concern about a human pandemic but little attention was paid by the Ottawa meeting to the key problem. Experts say intervening in Asia – where the virus is endemic – is a must.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The third breeding farm to be infected by bird flu in recent days has been discovered in China. Meanwhile the Ottawa meeting between experts and ministers from around the world has closed without any concrete proposals.

In Canada, after two days of meetings, experts and health ministers from 30 countries approved general statements about the need for more research and collaboration to find a vaccine and protect peoples. They also affirmed the notion that rich states should help the rest. Nations like Indonesia do not have sufficient funds to buy drugs nor to compensate owners of infected poultry farms. "The simple fact is that many impoverished families and farmers may consider it too risky to report sick animals," Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin told the conference. "They are the source of their food as well as their livelihood, so it's often customary to kill animals that get sick, to be eaten or sold." 

Mexico´s Health Minister said recognition of the need to step up production of antiviral drugs meant that countries with technical capacity and low costs should be allowed to produce them. This would be countries like India, Mexico and Brazil. On Monday, Taiwan and India declared their intention of giving the green light for the production of generic drugs identical to the antiviral Tamiflu – considered to be the most effective against the virus but too costly for poor countries – even without the authorisation of the company Roche which has the Tamiflu patent. Roche has shown itself to be in disagreement with such a move and has warned it carries the risk of producing a less-than-perfect drug.

China. After the breeding farms in Mongolia Interior and Anhui, a new epidemic has broken out in Wantang village, Xiangtan county, in the central province of Hunan. This was announced by the Agriculture Minister who considers "the infection to be under control". A total of 545 hens and ducks were killed by the virus and another 2,500 were culled as a precautionary measure. The WHO considers the H5N1 virus "endemic" in China´s breeding farms and in a large part of South-east Asia; it fears it is only a question of time until it becomes contagious among human beings. In Shanghai airports, dogs are being used to sniff out poultry which may be hidden in suitcases.

Indonesia. The government stands accused by Chairul Nidom, the microbiologist who revealed the existence of the infection in the country one day before the government admitted to it. The doctor, a researcher at the Centre for Tropical Diseases at the Airlangga University in Surabaya, has criticised the government for not offering swift and complete information about the disease and of reacting slowly. "If action had been taken promptly, the damage wouldn't have been great and the risks to humans could have been minimized," said Nidom. He also criticised the use of unspecific and dubious vaccines imported from China because of "financial considerations". Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has also criticised Jakarta for its inadequate intervention. Experts say mass slaughter of birds in infected areas should take place but the government is limiting itself to restricted interventions because it claims it cannot compensate owners. Large poultry farms are taking adequate measures, said Domenech, but the same could not be said for the "small farms of millions of farmers. There still seems to be a lack of awareness in the rural and suburban communities about the threat the virus poses to humans and animals."

FAO wants to create control centres in the most affected areas and it is considering compensating farmers to make them become "the main allies in the war on bird flu".

Taiwan. Anyone coming from the People´s Republic of Chin is submitted to testing, with a request that they try their body temperature twice a day for 10 days. The government has allocated one billion new dollars (30 million US dollars) to help farmers take measures to safeguard their poultry farms.

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See also
Bird flu pandemic would cost Asia 300 billion dollars
Bird flu hits Asia again, from China and India to Egypt
Prime Minister admits bird flu contagion peril
Fears of bird flu outbreak spread in Indonesia after two children die
Bird flu strikes India's Maharashtra State