WHO Asia Pacific head calls on China to provide bird flu samples

Senior United Nations health official Friday called on China to provide the world body with samples of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, saying that the country was the key to the global war against the disease. Shigeru Omi, Asia Pacific head of the U.N.'s World Health Organization, said China had so far refused to share any of the viruses culled from its animal bird flu outbreaks.

The H5N1 strain has killed at least 71 people in Asia since 2003. China last week reported its sixth human instance of the disease and its 26th reported outbreak in poultry since Oct. 19. Two people have died in China from the disease. Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Omi praised China for controlling and containing bird flu, and underscored its crucial role in combatting the disease worldwide.

"The outcome of this battle in China has ramifications not only for the region but also for the entire world," he said. "China is truly key to the global war against H5N1." However, he also criticized it for not sharing its bird flu samples with the U.N.

"The sharing of information must be timely, regular and global," Omi said. "From the more than 30 reported outbreaks in animals from 2005, no (Chinese) viruses have been made available so far."

There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy between China's own bird flu count of 26, and Shigeru's slightly higher figure. Over the past several months China has mounted an aggressive campaign to fight its bird flu outbreaks. The government says it has nearly completed a campaign to vaccinate all of China's 5.2 billion domesticated birds against the virus, reports the AP. I.L.

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