G8 calls for action on avian flu, report highlights Asia-Pacific Achilles' heel
A meeting of G8 health ministers in Moscow has concluded that the best way to deal with any outbreak of avian flu is to ensure rapid detection in anticipation of a potential pandemic. In Singapore, a report by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) indicates that countries in the Asia-Pacific region present both the greatest risks and the weakest lines of defence to any possible human outbreak. 'We believe that priority efforts should focus on the early detection and control of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza at its source as well as on the prevention of and preparedness for a potential human influenza pandemic,' reads article eight of the G8 statement, which specifically addresses avian flu. The G8 includes the EU as a member. 'We recognise the importance of pandemic preparedness and prevention through the provision of treatment means, communications strategies, public awareness campaigns, close coordination between veterinary and public health authorities, support for and cooperation in research activities and development of new technologies and new means of treatment. We welcome and support the global early warning system coordinated jointly by the WHO, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE),' the report continues. In Singapore, the report presented to the Lancet Asia Medical Forum on 3 May highlights the region's weak points and potential targets for the support mentioned in the G8 statement. 'The strategic approach towards pandemic preparedness taken by Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand is similar to the best of the European plans - the remaining Asia-Pacific countries surveyed are likely to be less prepared for an imminent pandemic and might consider developing operational plans that recognise current capacity limitations,' said lead author, Dr Richard Coker. The countries found to be lacking in specific measures to deal with avian flu were Vietnam, Thailand and China. Plans for Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia were not available, so the authors could not comment. The LSHTM team examined the WHO checklist for dealing with a pandemic: - planning and coordination; - public health interventions, such as vaccines and antivirals; - health system responses; - maintenance of essential services; - communication; - executing plans. The report suggests that while these countries do not conform to the WHO checklist, they may have their own measures in place. This, the report suggests, could create confusion in the event of a global crisis. The countries were also found to have gaps in essential services. 'Many of the gaps common in this region, such as identifying priority groups for antivirals and vaccines, planning for essential services and understanding how healthcare systems might respond during a pandemic are also common to the European region. Opportunities exist for co-operative relations between countries to be developed and built upon in influenza preparedness,' said Dr Coker.
Australia, Canada, China, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam