Bird flu: countries must share information despite fears of short-term losses ? UN

<left>30 March 2006 ? Some countries worry that sharing information about bird flu will affect their economies, poultry industry and tourism business, but transparency is still the long-term solution for those concerns, a senior United Nations point man in the fight against the disease said today.</left>
?It?s a very tricky issue,? the UN System?s Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza David Nabarro, told UN television in an interview when asked how such fears could be eased. He cited Viet Nam as a good example of the policy that speedy transparency benefits the long-term economic interest.

Timely information-sharing is vital in mobilizing resources to contain the H5N1 bird flu virus which has so far spread out of Asia into Europe, the Middle East and Africa, leading to the deaths or culling of more than 150 million birds. Experts fear that in a worst case scenario it could mutate into a deadly human pandemic.

?You can?t reassure a country, a government that if they share information, that it won?t necessarily mean that in the short term at least they will feel some pain, they may have a reduction in tourism, they may have a reduction in the willingness of other countries to buy their poultry,? Mr. Nabarro said.

?But, I?ve talked to the Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam, for example, and he said to me: ?We know in Viet Nam we have to be open because we want our tourism industry so stay strong in the long term. Tourists will come to our country if they trust us to be honest.

??If they find out that we?ve hidden something then the long-term damage to our tourist industry will be substantial, therefore we?re going to be open [with] everything we know,?? he quoted the minister as saying.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday made an impassioned plea for greater funding beyond the $1.9 billion already pledged to help poor countries, above all in Africa, to fight bird flu. ?We know that H5N1 avian influenza can be controlled if outbreaks are identified quickly, infected animals are culled, and movement and marketing of poultry are stopped in outbreak areas,? he said.

?But such measures can succeed only if communities and animal health authorities work together, if we keep the public informed about risks and the means to reduce them, if we monitor progress carefully, and if we provide swift and adequate financial compensation for culled birds,? he added of the need to prevent fear of lost livelihood from impeding speedy reporting of the disease.