11/09/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Prime Minister admits bird flu contagion peril

WHO will carry out validation checks in Chinese labs, which are under fire after two researchers were infected by Sars in 2004. There is concern about the frequency of outbreaks of infection. The price of poultry is dropping.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – "Bird flu is not fully under control in China and there is still the danger of infection in some areas," Wen Jiabao said today. The premier was speaking in a visit to Heishan country in Liaoning, which has been infected. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has announced validation checks on Chinese laboratories.

Chinese laboratories for infectious diseases have never been assessed to ascertain whether they live up to international standards.

In the coming days, WHO experts will go to China to collaborate in research on three suspect cases of people infected by bird flu in Hunan. They will also undertake to verify and certify the labs' performance. The problem came to the fore in April 2004, when two students caught Sars while working in a laboratory in Beijing. One student infected another two people in Anhui, who died.

"There were some bio-safety shortcomings in the labs, and so the labs were actually closed down and reorganized. Now they are opening up," Mike Ryan, director of the WHO's Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response team, said.

"The bio-security of the laboratories has already improved, but we need to ascertain if the system and processes meet international standards, particularly in confirming human influenza. We have to make sure that the specific techniques for confirming human influenza are adequate and have proper quality assurance." He said the laboratories may have been less than reliable in their capacity to detect bird flu.

Shigeru Omi, WHO director for the western Pacific region, said yesterday that Beijing needed technical support for lab diagnosis and testing. However, officials of the National Influenza Centre refuted doubts on the running of laboratories in Beijing. Their response was that the labs had reopened some time back, equipment was in line with quality standards and workers were expert.

Meanwhile, the high number of infection outbreaks in October (in Liaoning, Anhui, Hunan and Mongolia Interior) is worrying the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation. More data has been requested about the outbreak in Liaoning and help offered. "The frequency of outbreaks is a consequence of the inadequacy of the surveillance system," said Nourredin Mona, FAO representative in China.

Alarm is growing steadily in the country. In some areas, the price of poultry has dropped by 90% and supermarkets are no longer purchasing geese and chickens.

Chickens cost as little as 0.2 yuan (25 cents of a US dollar); before they cost two yuan.

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