Wed, Jan 18, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Officials give flu briefing

AVIAN INFLUENZA Three health officials reported on discussions at a WHO meeting they attended in Tokyo last week about the keys to defending against bird flu

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER

The keys to addressing a potential worldwide influenza pandemic include early response, cooperation between countries and preparation, Department of Health (DOH) officials said yesterday in a briefing on discussions that took place at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting in Japan.

After receiving a last-minute invitation, Taiwanese officials were able to attend the meeting on bird flu in Tokyo last Thursday and Friday.

It was the eighth WHO meeting relating to bird flu in three months, and 130 representatives from 22 countries were present.

The head of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Steve Kuo (郭旭崧), who was one of the three representatives to attend the meeting, said the nation's invitation to the meeting reflected the emphasis on international cooperation and closing any loopholes.

"Notions people have that the danger is over if a bird flu pandemic hasn't hit by March or April are misguided. This is just the beginning and we are preparing for a fight lasting at least three to five years," Kuo said.

Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at National Taiwan University Hospital Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said there was a consensus that the key to preventing the spread of infection was detection, quarantine and giving medicine to people the sick had come into contact with.

A controversial issue that arose at the meeting centered on the stockpiling and use of Tamiflu, with officials debating whether stockpiles of the drug should be used for treatment or prevention.

Kuo said that the pharmaceutical company Roche has donated 300,0000 courses of Tamiflu, 150,0000 of which are stored in Switzerland, and 150,0000 of which are stored in the US.

Asian countries expressed concern that there was no stockpile in Asia, the hot zone for bird flu.

According to Kuo, Japan said it would donate 50,0000 courses of Tamiflu to the Asia region, regardless of the fact that decisions about stockpiling in Asia had not been finalized.

EU members said that arguments about where to stockpile medication were muddying the issue and that the important issue was how countries would deliver medication to affected areas -- which may be very remote -- and the early detection of cases.

Chang said at present it takes an average of 16.7 days for bird flu cases to be reported to the WHO, with over half of the cases taking more than 14 days to be reported. One goal was to have the cases reported within two weeks.

Another issue discussed was the need for China to be "transparent" about human bird flu cases, unlike what happened during the SARS outbreak.

Kuo said that while China has been very open regarding its bird flu status up until now, there could be no guarantee that the government would have knowledge of all bird flu cases given the country's size.

Kuo also reported that Taiwan received 80,000 doses of Tamiflu from Roche the day before yesterday, and that by the end of June the nation should have reached its target of having enough Tamiflu to supply 10 percent of the population, or 2.3 million courses.

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