Asia affected by bird flu desperately needs help

Poor Asian countries affected by bird flu are most in need of international help if a pandemic flu strain emerges, a World Health Organization official said Wednesday. Laos, which has reported bird flu outbreaks, and Cambodia, where four people have died from the H5N1 strain, are among countries whose efforts to implement virus containment measures are most hampered by poor infrastructure, said Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, WHO's Asia-Pacific adviser for communicable diseases.

"For example, in Thailand, it may be easier to deliver a large amount of the anti-viral drugs to the affected areas in terms of transport," Oshitani said. "But it's more challenging in Laos or Cambodia."

But Oshitani said all affected countries in the region, rich or poor, needed international support to improve surveillance and response capabilities. "There are some gaps in each country," he said. "To fill these gaps they need some financial and technical support from the international community."

Oshitani spoke on the sidelines of the three-day, closed-door WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network Steering Committee Meeting, which started Wednesday in Singapore.

The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 69 people in Asia since 2003, mostly in Vietnam, and through contact with infected birds. Experts have warned the virus could mutate and become more easily passed between people, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions, reports the AP. I.L.

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