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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 13:00 GMT
Move to share bio-terrorism fight
male lab worker
Public health laboratories are planning to share data
Health ministers from the United States and seven other countries have agreed to work more closely together to combat the threat of bio-terrorism.

The ministers, meeting in the Canadian city of Ottawa, pledged to share research, information and emergency plans, following the still unresolved outbreak of anthrax in the United States.

They also agreed to explore the joint stockpiling of vaccines and antibiotics and to co-ordinate the work of their surveillance systems.

Taking part in the meeting were the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico.

Reassurance

In a joint statement, the ministers said international co-operation was essential: "Terrorism, particularly bio-terrorism, is an international issue."

Hazardous materials experts decontaminate each other after leaving the Hart Senate building
The United States is still on high alert after the anthrax outbreak

The Canadian Health Minister, Allan Rock, said the ministers wanted to offer people safety and peace of mind.

Canada is going to co-ordinate the work of the new group which is due to meet again in Britain in the near future.

The French Health Minister, Bernard Kouchner, told the French news agency AFP the Ottawa meeting was just a "first step" in the fight against bio-terrorism. He said it was important to broaden the alliance and get the full participation of the developing world.

Smallpox vaccination

In the wake of the anthrax scare in the United States, some scientists say preparations should also be taken against a possible outbreak of smallpox - a feared biological weapon because of its potential speed of spread and fatality rate.

But Canada's Allan Rock said the ministers felt the risk of a smallpox attack to be remote.

However, the United States is taking no chances and plans to stockpile three-hundred million doses of smallpox vaccine.

US Health Secretary, Tommy Thompson, told the Ottawa meeting that he was negotiating with three firms to provide the vaccine. "I don't think you can be overly prepared....it's so much better to have the vaccine."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Julian Siddle
"The development of new drugs to combat resistant strains takes both time and large investment"
See also:

07 Nov 01 | Americas
US 'hopeful' anthrax scare over
04 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax cases baffle investigators
01 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax kills fourth American
31 Oct 01 | Americas
Cost of anthrax attacks 'surges'
27 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax found in Congress offices
08 Nov 01 | Americas
Anthrax victim 'kept in the dark'
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