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International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Session 3: Ministerial Interventions
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
October 25, 2008

Thank you, Dr. Carroll. I again would like to express our appreciation to the Government of Egypt for its tremendous effort in hosting this conference.

On behalf of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, I would like to convey his regret that he could not be here due to a last minute change in schedule. I would like to recognize the presence of our U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey. I thank her for her support on this critical issue.

We have come a long way since the first meeting of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza was hosted in Washington three years ago this month.

Today, around the world, governments, international and regional organizations, financial institutions, animal and human health experts, research institutions, emergency responders and many others have gathered in an unprecedented way to bolster disease surveillance, outbreak assessment, preparedness, response and containment in advance of a possible pandemic.

In these past three years, we have seen unprecedented international collaboration among health, agriculture and foreign ministries.
Newly developed international health mechanisms have resulted in a coordinated global approach. This has helped countries to detect, assess, notify and respond to public health threats. Countries with inadequate financial resources and weak infrastructures are the greatest beneficiaries.

The international focus on the twin threats – both from the spread of avian influenza in domestic and migratory birds but also from a possible viral mutation that would cause a potentially devastating human pandemic – has led to action worldwide.

Nearly all governments have put in place basic planning for avian and pandemic flu activities. National surveillance systems with supporting laboratory and field investigation services have been extensively reinforced. Global progress in preparedness and response reflects the concerted efforts of governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, bilateral donor agencies, the European Commission, international and regional organizations, and international financial institutions.

We all can be proud of what we have accomplished together.

Everyone in this conference center knows that a pandemic can begin in a matter of days.

In the interests of global public health, the May 2007 World Health Assembly recognized the need to strengthen and improve the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Influenza Surveillance Network. WHO member states recognized the importance of timely sharing of influenza viruses to assess pandemic risk and develop pandemic vaccines. Member states also recognized the need for more transparent, fair and equitable sharing of vaccines and other benefits.

Though complete agreement on all aspects of virus and benefit sharing has not yet been reached, the global situation has improved with WHO’s establishment of an interim flu virus tracking system and an advisory mechanism for the surveillance network. At the WHO Intergovernmental Meeting in December, there will be another opportunity to advance our work on virus and benefit-sharing procedures.

The global response to a pandemic must include a wide spectrum of medical and non-medical interventions at local, national and international levels to reduce illness and death, and mitigate the socioeconomic consequences.

To help prepare nations for a possible pandemic, the United States encourages countries to consider usingthe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “pandemic mitigation” guidance we recommend to our own citizens, but adapted to reflect each country’s unique needs, resources and perspectives.

Global efforts to confront the avian influenza threat have substantially enhanced global capacity – not only to deal with pandemics but also other emerging infectious diseases. Indeed, it is now widely acknowledged that mechanisms developed for highly pathogenic avian influenza can serve as a basis for addressing other infectious diseases.

We are pleased that this conference will review long-term strategies for controlling avian influenza, but also other emerging diseases passed from animals to humans.

In conclusion, I would like to stress the importance of maintaining global momentum in the effort to confront the threat of avian and pandemic influenza. And toward this goal, the United States urges the international community to continue to focus on avian and pandemic influenza in 2009. We welcome the announcement by the Government of Vietnam to host next year’s conference on avian and pandemic influenza and would be pleased to support them in this important effort.

Even though avian influenza makes fewer headlines today than it did a few years ago, we all know that the threat persists. We need to continue our efforts while building long-term capacity to combat pandemic influenza and other emerging infectious diseases. It is a daunting challenge, but, together, we will meet it. Thank you.

Released on October 30, 2008

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