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Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2005, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
EU considers emergency flu fund
Chickens
There are fears the bird flu virus will mutate
The European Commission is considering setting aside a "solidarity fund" of a billion euros (677m), to be used in the event of a flu pandemic.

The money would be used to buy anti-viral drugs and develop vaccines to combat the disease.

But the European Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou said such a fund would have to be agreed by all 25 EU members.

The proposal came as European health ministers met in the UK to decide how to prepare for a flu pandemic.

No one country could fight this problem in isolation
Patricia Hewitt, UK Health Secretary

Commissioner Kyprianou said of the fund: "In a case of a pandemic, it will finance the use or replacement of anti-virals or vaccines."

He also confirmed all member states would be responsible for drawing up their own plans and antiviral drug stockpiles.

These plans will be examined next week at a meeting in Copenhagen.

Ministers repeated assurances the recent cases of flu in birds in Romania and Turkey did not mean the public in Europe was at any greater risk of flu.

Preparations

UK Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt stressed bird flu and a human flu pandemic were separate issues.

The deadly H5N1 avian flu strain is currently affecting the bird population, and some people in close contact with birds, in South East Asia.

On Thursday, it was confirmed a Thai man, who had slaughtered and eaten chickens, had become the 13th person to die of bird flu in the country.

But the health ministers also focussed on the need to prepare for the risk of a pandemic flu strain affecting humans at some point in the future.

Ms Hewitt said: We agreed that no one country could fight this problem in isolation.

"We can do far more together."

Stockpiling plans

Commissioner Kyprianou said: "I can confirm that all member states have national preparedness plans. A few are still at the draft form, but they are there.

"They will be revised in Copenhagen next week."

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He said a country's plans would take into account factors such as whether or not it was an island or land-locked and how dense its population was.

But he stressed no country was at higher risk of being affected by a pandemic than any other.

The ability of EU nations to coordinate their efforts to tackle a flu pandemic is to be tested in a simulation exercise later this year, in which officials in command centres across Europe will react to imaginary scenarios.

No healthcare staff will be mobilised.

As part of the plans, each country will have to decide how many courses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu it needs, and place orders with the manufacturer.

Commissioner Kyprianou said: "There should be enough to cover the percentage of the population that each member state decides needs protection."

These orders will be fulfilled but, if a pandemic struck before all orders had been delivered, the affected country would receive the drugs it needed to contain the virus.

The World Health Organization is also building its own stockpile to be ready to help affected countries anywhere in the world.

Poultry import ban

The health ministers' announcements follow news of an outbreak of flu in poultry in the Russian province of Tula, to the south of Moscow.

China has also revealed that 2,600 birds have died from the disease in Inner Mongolia.

Romania has also confirmed birds infected in a second outbreak in the country did have the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.

The European Commission has banned bird and poultry imports from affected countries.

H5N1 has killed more than 60 people in South-East Asia since 2003.




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