- KUALA LUMPUR -- Scientists
meeting in Malaysia have warned the world has reached a tipping point in
the fight against bird flu.
- They are calling on rich nations to put resources into
countries fighting the disease, or risk a global flu pandemic.
- But some delegates say the fight against bird flu is
being hampered by secrecy in some affected countries.
- They say they are worried by a lack of information from
Laos and Burma, while others called on China to be more open about the
- The Kuala Lumpur conference's focus is protecting farm
and market workers, and preparing medics and vets for an outbreak. The
World Health Organization (WHO) wants a strategy to prevent viruses leaping
from animals to humans, and creating a hybrid flu germ.
- Scientists insist that bird flu can still be prevented
from turning into a virus that spreads among people.
- But press them a little and it is clear that they are
desperately worried the battle is being lost.
- Funding needed
- According to the WHO, East Asian countries are doing
their best to contain outbreaks among poultry and wild bird populations.
- But without funding and resources from the West, it says
they have not got a hope.
- WHO regional spokesman Peter Cordingley said rich nations
appeared complacent, and warned that the impact of a human flu pandemic
would be on a far greater scale than the Sars outbreak two years ago.
- "We don't know what the fatalities will be,"
he said. "We can expect it to be very high.
- "There will be enormous economic dislocation. Stock
markets will close, international travel and trade will be limited.
- "We can't put a figure on this, but Sars in fact
will be dwarfed by a flu pandemic if one happens."
- Better hygiene
- Joseph Domenech, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation's
chief vet, wants China to properly investigate the recent deaths of 6,000
birds in Quinhai Province.
- It is feared survivors could carry the virus south to
India and Pakistan when they migrate.
- He also asked China to be open about the misuse of the
human anti-viral drug amantadine to counter bird flu, amid worries that
it will become useless if the virus spreads to people.
- But if it is hard getting information from China, Laos
and Burma might as well be on the dark side of the moon, according to Mr
- This meeting brings together delegates from the WHO,
the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal
- They are focussing on high-risk areas like the backyard
farms, where most of Asia's food is produced and where people and animals
- Other hotspots include wet markets, where birds are stored
live for shoppers.
- Both provide ideal conditions for bird flu to spread
and pass to humans.
- Experts hope that by encouraging better hygiene and safer
working practices, it may be possible to stop some animal viruses jumping
the species barrier.
- So far bird flu is known to have claimed 55 lives in
China, Vietnam and Thailand.
- © BBC MMV