Andean region health officials to meet in Lima to discuss bird flu

Health officials from five Andean nations were set to arrive in Peru's capital for a one-day meeting to begin coordinating a regional contingency plan to prevent the spread of bird flu, Peru's health minister said Thursday.

Pilar Mazzetti told Radio 1160 that she and her counterparts from Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela were planning to discuss unified border controls and a joint response should a pandemic of the disease reach the region.

An Andean Health Organization spokeswoman, who declined to provide her name, told The Associated Press that the closed-door meeting would begin early Friday and that a news conference was planned for around 1:30 p.m. local time (18:30 GMT).

The nations are concerned about the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, found in samples south of Moscow where hundreds of birds died suddenly. The strain, which also recently spread into Romania and Turkey, can be lethal for humans.

Sixty people in Asia have died of bird flu since 2003. Mazzetti said a contingency plan was being set up at Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport to quarantine any arriving passengers suffering symptoms of bird flu.

Peru Health Ministry spokesman John Castro said all the foreign health ministers had confirmed their attendance for Friday's meeting. "It has been recommended that they come with someone from their nations responsible for agriculture," who normally deal with policies controlling the poultry industry, he added.

One topic will be an alert system so that if any strain of bird flu breaches one country's border, "we will all know as soon as possible to take measures, unite all the monitoring systems and see how we will act as a bloc," he said.

The meeting will also deal with the purchase of medicines because "it is easier if six nations buy than just one, which is more expensive," he added.

The meeting in Peru was called at the urging of Chilean Health Minister Pedro Garcia, who on Thursday said his government planned to push for the suspension of trade mark rights so drugs, like the anti-viral Tamiflu, made by the Swiss company Roche, can be produced by other laboratories for emergency distribution., AP reports.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team