East Asia Summit leaders plight to boost cooperation to fight bird flu

Sixteen Asia-Pacific countries pledged Wednesday to boost cooperation in the fight against bird flu, saying they will report all outbreaks rapidly and transparently to each other. A joint declaration by the 16 heads of governments attending the inaugural East Asia Summit said they'll make every effort to "enhance national, regional and international capacities" to prevent bird flu from transforming into a human pandemic.

They also agreed to improve "national policies for prevention and control of emerging infectious diseases in general," the statement said.

Most of the 69 deaths and 135 infections from the virus since 2003 have been traced to contact with diseased brides, but experts fear a global pandemic if H5N1 mutates into a form that spreads between humans.

The victims of bird flu have mostly been from the region represented Wednesday's summit among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. The statement said the 16 leaders vowed to make every effort to control and eradicate bird flu in domestic poultry, and "ensure rapid, transparent and accurate risk communications among participating countries."

They also agreed to work together to set up a network of stockpile of antiviral drugs withthe technical support of the World Health Organization and other bodies.

The document reflects concerns that governments may hesitate in reporting outbreaks of the potentially deadly H5N1 strain in order to avoid harming tourism and their economies. China, which last month confirmed its first human cases on its mainland, has denied covering up its bird flu situation as it was accused of doing during an outbreak of SARS three years ago.

However, Chinese authorities say they fear incompetent officials in poor, rural areas may not detect and report cases as quickly as they should.

Earlier this week, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced a US$135 million (Ђ114 million) aid package to help ASEAN countries fight bird flu.

India said it could lend its expertise in producing generic drugs to help build regional stockpiles of antiviral medicine, reports the AP. I.L.

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