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Regional Officials Meet to Address Bird Flu Crisis

Governments should keep transparent and share information to contain the epidemic of bird flu that was spreading in Asia, said Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Wednesday afternoon at an international meeting on the avian virus crisis.


"To contain a fast-spreading virus, countries need to respond promptly, act with transparency, obtain reliable scientific data, and share information and experiences with one another," said the prime minister when opening the ministerial meeting on the current poultry disease situation.


Describing the epidemic as "a dark side" of globalization, Thaksin noted that the disease not only posed a grave economic threat but also a serious threat to public health.


Millions of chickens have been killed on farms in many countries and regions since the avian influenza first broke out in Vietnam.


During less than one month time, more economies including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, China and China's Taiwan have reported outbreak of the disease, which was suspected of being transmitted to chicken by bird and water fowl.


In Thailand alone, which confirmed the outbreak on January 23, almost 8 million chickens have been culled to curb the spread of the fowl disease since November of last year and 134 spots including the capital of Bangkok have been confirmed as risk areas affected by the disease.


Vowing to put the situation under well control in three-month time, the Thai government said the poultry disease so far had caused some 3-billion-baht (about US$77 million) loss to the kingdom, which was among world top five chicken exporters.


The disease has also claimed at least 10 people's lives, eight in Vietnam and two in Thailand.


"The enemy we face is no less deadly than SARS," stressed Thaksin in his speech.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), viruses causing the disease could constantly undergo spontaneous genetic changes that make them hard to protect against and even mix their genes with other types to create new, deadlier subtypes.


Thaksin therefore said the SARS crisis breaking out last year must not be forgotten and called on governments to cooperate to address the current epidemic threatening the region's poultry industry and human health.


"We need to coordinate our efforts and exchange views and information, so that we can avoid the extremes of overreaction and complacency," he said.


Initiated by the Thai government on Saturday, the meeting was attended by agriculture and health officials from 13 concerned economies and experts from WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health.


The three-hour close-door meeting was expected to join the region's efforts to address the bird flu crisis.


The convening of the meeting itself indicated that the epidemic had become an issue of great political significance and showed the governments' willingness to address the issue jointly, FAO's regional representative for Asia and Pacific He Changchui told Xinhua before the meeting was held.


(Xinhua News Agency January 29, 2004) 

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