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China Needs Enhanced Anti-bird Flu Efforts at Grassroots Level
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The front line battle against avian flu in China is at the grassroots level, and it needs improvement in public awareness and surveillance, said an official with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Beijing Friday.

"I have seen with my own eyes that China at all levels in truly committed to the fight against H5N1 avian influenza," said Dr. Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific Region, at a news conference, "but the ability to spot poultry outbreaks and possible human cases at the grassroots level is still a major challenge."

Accurate and complete reporting of outbreaks in animals and humans is vital, he said. Of the six confirmed human cases so far, five had not received reports of poultry outbreaks in the local community, according to Omi.

"There is therefore a need for a concerted and greater focus at the grassroots level -- so the community will be strengthened, particularly in terms of awareness and surveillance," he said.

WHO officials also revealed that Chinese people have little access to Tamiflu, a drug produced by Roche Pharmaceuticals that is currently one of the four drugs known to work against influenza.

Julie Hall, coordinator of epidemic alert and response in WHO's Beijing office said, "the government should try to make more Tamiflu available."

On Thursday, Omi and the WHO delegation including Henk Bekedam, WHO's representative in China, Lee Chin-Kei, project officer of WHO in China and Roy Wadia, WHO's information officer in China congratulated Hunan for successfully treating a nine-year-old boy who survived a bout of the flu.

They met with local health officials in Hunan and called for the prompt and quick detection of human cases of bird flu and enhancement of the reporting of animal outbreaks.

Throughout Asia a total of 139 laboratory-confirmed human cases of bird flu involving 71 deaths have been reported by WHO on its website.

China has reported six human cases of bird flu and about 30 outbreaks of bird flu in poultry this year. The government has pledged to spend 2 billion yuan (US$244 million) in fighting the disease and vaccinate all its 5.2 billion domesticated birds, and has strengthened monitoring and diagnosis of possible human cases.

(Xinhua News Agency December 24, 2005)

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