Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Conference looks at ways of tackling bird flu

FLU FIGHT Taipei is playing host to an international health conference where yesterday delegates from Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan discussed ways to halt H5N1

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Bird flu and measures to counter its threat were high on the agenda yesterday during an international conference in Taipei.

The conference, titled Asian Network of Major Cities 21 (short for 21st century), offers a platform for dialogue between representatives from major Asian cities, including Bangkok, New Delhi, Hanoi, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, Yangon and Taipei.

The network was established in 2001 with Beijing opting to withdraw from it last year.

Phan Van Tu, deputy chief of the Pasteur Institute's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, said the number of confirmed cases of avian flu in Vietnam had been growing since the country's first outbreak in 2003.

Although there is no proof so far of human-to-human transmission of the virus, the fatality rate among the Vietnamese cases was 85.2 percent, according to Phan's keynote speech.

To combat the H5N1 virus, Phan said Vietnam had established control committees at all levels and strengthened its disease surveillance network across the nation.

Vietnam had tried to ensure that poultry handling facilities were located away from residential areas, he said, adding that poultry would also be vaccinated one to two months before the outbreak season, which is winter, according to statistics.

Phan mentioned that Vietnam is currently developing an "innovative technology" to produce its own bird flu vaccine from chicken embryos.

While the new vaccine is being developed, the country has purchased stocks of Tamiflu vaccine for the H5N1 virus from China.

Masami Sumitomo, director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Infectious Disease Control and Crisis Management Department, said that training programs had been offered to the network's member cities in Tokyo early this year.

Sumitomo discussed Tokyo's anti-epidemic efforts over the past year and said the city hopes to establish a Web site where information on members' countermeasures against any possible bird flu epidemic could be published.

She added that Tokyo expects the information exchange platform to be enlarged and widened to include more cities.

King Chwan-chuen (金傳春) a professor at National Taiwan University's Institute of Epidemiology agreed with Sumitomo.

"Information exchange on avian flu needs to be transparent," King said.

In her speech to the forum, Academia Sinica Institute of Biomedical Sciences research fellow Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉) said that, "New strains of the virus develop before people are aware of them."

Ho said the problem of Taiwan's preparation for any possible bird flu outbreak lies in the difficulty of bird flu surveillance in rural areas.

She especially addressed the need for Taiwan to develop its flu vaccine production ability and to "increase the demand for routine influenza vaccinations."

The three-day conference will address tuberculosis and AIDS prevention issues today and tomorrow.

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