09/21/2006, 00.00
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Bird flu: Beijing must designate a focal point to immediately inform the WHO

New body would be required to communicate any health emergency within 24 hours so as to allow immediate action. Mainland China has so failed to do so and Hong Kong demands to be able to act on its own.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – China has not yet organised itself in order to immediately report public health emergencies like a pandemic flu to the World Health Organisation (WHO) as 12 countries in the western Pacific area have done, this according to a conference in Auckland (New Zealand) on Asia-Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases.

Under international health regulations adopted last year, countries were urged to designate a national "focal point" to communicate with the WHO to ensure a more rapid global response to public health emergencies. The regulations will be enforced from next June, making the guidelines legally binding on all member states.

About 150 health ministers and officials from 37 WHO member states and areas in the western Pacific attending the Auckland conference were urged on Tuesday to submit names of national contact points.

The WHO regional adviser for communicable disease surveillance and response, Takeshi Kasai, yesterday said that Beijing has not yet done so.

China is one of the worse hit countries by the bird flu pandemic and has been repeatedly chastised by the WHO for delays and providing partial information as well as for not allowing WHO experts to intervene immediately. But the head of the Chinese delegation, Vice-Minister of Health Jiang Zuojun, told the meeting the mainland needed guidance on procedures and criteria for notification and response under the new international health regulations.

The WHO's director for combating communicable diseases in the western Pacific, Tee Ah Sian, said she reminded delegates that without focal points to facilitate action the WHO cannot intervene right away. Under the regulations, the time frame for reporting was 24 hours.

Some analysts believe that China prefers to manage such emergencies on its own before communicating with the WHO and allowing the latter's experts into the country.

Hong Kong Director of Health Lam Ping-yan said Hong Kong would like to have direct contact with the WHO even though it was not a member state, hoping to "have the understanding of the Chinese government". (PB)

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See also
WHO: China may have unidentified bird flu outbreaks
Bird flu feared more virulent in Eastern Europe than in Asia
Asian battleground key to beating bird flu virus
First avian flu case detected
Human-to-human bird flu transmission feared in Indonesia


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