Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Asia-Pacific officials are meeting in Vietnam to find ways to stop a possible bird flu pandemic that experts say could kill millions.
The three-day meeting of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) health and agriculture ministers and officials is due to call on the group's 21 members to promptly share all information on new cases to stop or slow any outbreak.
Opening the meeting, Vietnam's deputy agriculture minister, Bui Ba Bong, said that since late 2003, 205 people have been infected in nine countries, and 113 of them have died, resulting in a "very high fatality rate" of 55.1 per cent.
A draft of the meeting's action plan, to be approved by ministers on Friday, warns that "an influenza pandemic would have broad and potentially global economic, social and security consequences".
Under the plan, members would pledge to limit bird flu in their poultry stocks by encouraging a shift from traditional live bird markets to more bio-secure facilities.
To prepare for outbreaks, they would also streamline visa and customs procedures for the World Health Organisation's (WHO) rapid response teams to ensure they could arrive quickly with their equipment at the scene of any outbreak.
Of the APEC member countries, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have all suffered human infections, while the disease has also affected birds in Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Russia and South Korea.
Vietnam, which will host the annual APEC summit in November, has been the worst affected, with 42 human deaths since the outbreak started here in December 2003.
The following countries are members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, USA and Vietnam.