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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Global bird flu measures backed
By Lee Carter
BBC News, Ottawa

A worker feeds chickens at a poultry farm in China
The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed more than 60 people in Asia
An international meeting of health ministers discussing ways to plan for an influenza epidemic has concluded in the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

They recommended that more resources should be put into developing a vaccine to protect people against bird flu.

They also agreed to increase surveillance of outbreaks across national boundaries.

Discussions are also beginning on ways to increase production of anti-viral drugs and any future vaccine.

Few expected the health ministers, attending what amounted to a one-day conference, to have all the answers by the end of it.

There was not even consensus that an influenza pandemic is inevitable, even though most microbiologists say one is.

Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong in 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Possible cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam, but none confirmed

In fact, after the sense of urgency that seemed to drive the start of the conference, the message at the end from the US and others was not to panic and to remind the public that a pandemic still has not occurred.

US Secretary of Health Michael Leavitt said politicians had to find a balance between informing and inflaming.

Some countries, including the hosts of the meeting, Canada, had supported a Mexican proposal to increase manufacturing capacity both for anti-viral drugs and any future vaccine.

This would be achieved by transferring manufacturing to countries such as Mexico, Brazil or India, where production could be increased while costs could be kept down.

Mr Leavitt described the proposal as reasonable but it is clear that many of these complex issues are going to need more discussion before concrete decisions are made.

The next opportunity to do that will be at a World Health Organization meeting to be held in Geneva in November.

Map showing location of outbreaks of H5N1 strain of bird flu
The H5N1 strain remained largely in South-East Asia until this summer, when Russia and Kazakhstan both reported outbreaks
Scientists fear it may be carried by migrating birds to Europe and Africa but say it is hard to prove a direct link with bird migration
UK case discovered in quarantine, so disease-free status unaffected

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