Avian flu and pandemic flu are both issues of high concern to countries around the world, but the degree to which nations are prepared varies widely, according to discussions at a recent international conference in India.
During the New Delhi International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, held Dec. 2-4, speakers noted that some countries are prepared and have supplies if a pandemic occurs. However, many countries are already having trouble dealing with birds that have avian influenza. Other countries need help learning about influenza and how to better protect people and animals. Poverty remains an important barrier to progress on avian flu, noted Margaret Chan, MD, director-general of the World Health Organization, during her meeting remarks.
"The countries with recurring epidemics in poultry and recurring sporadic human cases are largely poor countries," Chan said. "Wealthy countries have been able to contain poultry outbreaks fairly quickly. Not a single human case has occurred in a wealthy country."
To help less wealthy countries prepare for a pandemic, nine countries pledged more than $400 million in aid during the conference.
While avian flu and pandemic flu are similar, in many ways the two are separate problems, according to conference participants. About 750 people from 11 nations attended the conference. Countries need to work to address avian influenza, which is already a problem around the world, but also prepare for pandemic influenza, which could develop at any time. Conference participants encouraged governments to continue working together, share information on viruses and stay alert.
"Avian influenza...is today a global threat and we must all work together to find a global solution," said Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister. "Each of our governments will have to act locally, but think globally in dealing with this massive problem."