A World Health Organization report calls for a global effort to develop and produce a vaccine to protect against the H-5-N-1 avian flu virus. In the past year this virus, first reported in southeast Asia in 1997, has spread to some 55 countries around the world.
Transmitted by commercial poultry and wild birds, avian flu has remained primarily an animal disease. But if the virus mutates into a form that is easily spread among people, a global pandemic could result and millions of people could be at risk. Mike Leavitt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says, "The number of avian flu cases in humans has more than doubled to more than two-hundred-fifty cases in ten countries. Tragically," he says, "more than half of those persons infected have died."
Secretary Leavitt says that the U.S. has been "making significant investments in vaccine research and in expanding production capacity, including one-billion dollars in cell-based vaccine research efforts." He says, "If a country is to protect its own people, it must work together with other nations to protect the people of the world."
"In that spirit," says Mr. Leavitt, the U.S. "has provided ten-million dollars to the W-H-O to support influenza vaccine development and manufacturing. . . .in other countries as they develop sustainable programs for vaccines to prevent avian H-5-N-1 or other novel influenza viruses in humans."
Mr. Leavitt says that the U.S. commends the World Health Organization "for its continued leadership in guiding the global effort to prepare for and respond to a potential human influenza pandemic." President George W. Bush says, "It's essential we work together 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.