The United States hosted a conference of Senior Officials of the International Partnership for Avian and Pandemic Influenza (IPAPI) to identify actions to help prevent or contain a possible pandemic. Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, and Secretary of Agriculture Michael Johanns welcomed representatives from more than eighty countries and nine international organizations.
At this time the H-5-N-1 avian flu virus is predominantly found in migratory birds and commercial poultry in Southeast Asia where it has resulted in the deaths of some sixty people. The United Nations World Health Organization, or W-H-O, issued a statement warning that the virus "could change into a form which spreads easily from person to person. As people would have no natural immunity," says the W-H-O, "a new influenza virus could cause widespread death, illness, social and economic disruption."
David Nabarro, the UN Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, says, "We are not sure our vaccines are going to work because we don't know how the virus is going to mutate." In 1918, a flu virus, believed to have originated from avian influenza, killed millions of people worldwide. President George W. Bush says he is "concerned about what an avian flu outbreak could mean for the United States and the world":
"During my meetings at the United Nations, not only did I speak about it publicly, I spoke about it privately to as many leaders as I could find about the need for there to be awareness, one, of the issues, and two, rapid reporting to W-H-O, so that we can deal with a potential pandemic.... And we need to know on a real-time basis as quickly as possible, the facts, so that the world scientific community can analyze the facts and begin to deal with it."
Combating the spread of avian flu requires a worldwide effort. "It's essential we work together," says President George W. Bush, "and as we do so, we will fulfill a moral duty to protect our citizens and heal the sick, and comfort the afflicted."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.