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Donors must back anti-bird flu work in Vietnam -WHO

Written by: Staff

HANOI, Apr 8 (Reuters) International donor commitment to Vietnam should be sustained to build on its success in controlling avian flu after it was hit hardest by the disease, the United Nations bird flu coordinator said today.

David Nabarro said that if donors moved money to other parts of the world, the Southeast Asian country could be ''squeezed'' in its longer-term efforts to contain the disease that has killed 109 worldwide, 42 of them in Vietnam.

''I think that would be a bad thing because the success here in Vietnam so far is not just good for Vietnam, it is good for the world,'' Nabarro told reporters during a two-day visit to Hanoi.

The highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus struck poultry and people in Vietnam in late 2003. After nearly two years of using mainly culling to control its spread, the Communist-ruled country last year adopted a combination of mass poultry vaccination, disinfecting, culling, information campaigns and bans on live poultry in cities.

There has not been a human case in Vietnam since November but this week the country reported bird flu in poultry for the first time since December on its northern border with China.

Hans Troedsson, World Health Organisation representative in Hanoi, said at the same news conference Vietnam was working on medium and longer term approaches to containing the disease.

''If you want to contain an outbreak before it becomes a pandemic it is important to have the capacity not just at the global or national level but at the provincial level,'' he said.

VIRUS SPREAD The virus has spread to at least 30 new countries this year.

Cambodia and China, Vietnam's neighbours, have also reported infections in people and poultry in recent weeks.

Health workers said on Saturday that bird flu had been found on three farms near the border with China, the second report of the disease in the past few days in northern Vietnam.

Tests showed an H5 virus subtype was found in chickens smuggled from China, officials said on Thursday.

Vietnam also said this week it was stepping up border-control measures to prevent a resurgence of bird flu, which health experts fear could mutate and spread easily from person to person, triggering a global pandemic in which millions could die.

Nabarro said stricter border control was one of the issues he discussed with officials in China and Vietnam because trading in live birds across borders is one of the main methods H5N1 can spread. The other is migratory birds acting as carriers for the virus.

Countries needed to do more to be ready to work with each other if there were a human pandemic, said Nabarro, whose Asian visit also includes Thailand, Indonesia and Laos.

''It is no good if country A adopts a set of control measures and then people spill over the border and get into country B and the same control measures are not adopted,'' he said.

''One of the issues is inter-country cooperation on early warning and on response because I still don't think we've got that right.'' REUTERS CH PM1627

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