Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) The Asia head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Hitoshi Oshitani, said China's Health Minister, Gao Qiang, has accepted to share H5N1 virus samples. However, the Chinese authorities have yet to come forward with the samples.
Gao Qing said his main concern was not so much sharing test results as the inefficiency and delays of national medical staff who should locate the virus. "Basically all bird flu cases take place in rural areas, and some are in remote villages. The standard of the equipment and skills of the grass-roots medical staff are both rather poor there."
The Chinese Health Minister denied accusations that bird flu cases were covered up in the past, saying that, "from Sars in 2003 to bird flu in 2004, China has always adopted the principle of being open, transparent, comprehensive and accurate".
Gao Qing however had sought to deny the case of a man stricken by bird flu in Liaoning province, first by saying the man never existed and than saying he did exist but had not lived in Liaoning for a long time.
On 16 November, the H5N1 virus struck a human being in China for the first time. The case was confirmed together with another two by the Health Ministry of China, but virus samples have yet to be delivered to WHO for further testing.
The World Health Organisation says it is urgent to have virus samples to be able to track its evolution and to find a vaccine to avert a pandemic.
The H5N1 viral strain has killed 68 people in Asia since 2003 and it has exterminated poultry. Following pressure from WHO, Vietnam managed to isolate the virus in 2004, but Indonesia and especially China, are not giving an ear.
Roy Wandia, WHO spokesman in Beijing, said "China is seeking to isolate the bird flu virus. At the beginning of the year, thanks also to international help, the Chinese government showed the DNA sequence of poultry stricken by the epidemic, and it has said it will share further information on animal and human isolates".
Last Monday, the Health Ministry said its studies showed a genetic mutation of the H5N1 virus which appeared for the first time in Vietnam.