Canada hosts international flu conference

Global Pandemic Influenza Readiness Conference

Canada will host a two-day international conference on pandemic influenza Oct. 24 -25 for health ministers or senior health officials from about 30 countries as well as delegations from international health organizations, such as the World Health Organization.

At a Thursday press briefing, Ian Shugart, assistant deputy minister at Health Canada, said the purpose of the meeting is to encourage all nations to "collaborate on a global planning effort to reduce the risk of a possible influenza pandemic.”

David Butler-Jones, chief public health officer, Public Health Agency of Canada, said at the briefing that Canada’s experience with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 illustrated the international nature of flu-based disease, making next week’s meeting "so important. … The SARS outbreak brought home … that everything is connected."

Butler-Jones added, "Infectious diseases do not respect any borders, any policies, any perspectives, any parties, any religions. They just move and we have to be constantly strengthening our national and international linkages in order that we can have a coordinated response.”

The current strain of avian flu, H5N1, which has spread from Asia to parts of Europe including Greece and Macedonia, has the potential to become a serious pandemic. Also, if mutated so it could spread from person to person it “could spread very rapidly and result in significant illness, death and social disruption,” Butler-Jones said.

Shugart said next week’s international meeting will focus on four primary themes:

- Collaboration on human and animal health issues;

- Increased disease surveillance globally so that each country and each region of the world can be able to detect signs of a potential pandemic flu, and report and share that information “with a high degree of insurance about the quality of that information”;

- Development of vaccines and antiviral elicitations and distribution on an equitable basis globally;

- Development of risk communications plans with the public.

Shugart said information sharing on an international basis is key to battling a potential pandemic. "Without effective information exchange and the sharing of information, both technical and of ideas for dealing with some of the challenges that we face, we will not be able as effectively to deal with preparation for a possible pandemic,” Shugart said.

Countries sending delegations to the meeting are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.

International organizations sending delegations to the meeting include the Associations of Southeast Asian Nations Secretariat, European Commission, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Pan American Health Organization, United Nations, World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

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