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Asian countries pledge common fight against flu

Asian countries will increase stockpiles of medicine to fight the H1N1 flu virus and look at ways to share essential supplies in the event of an emergency, according to a statement drafted for a meeting on Friday.
By HT Correspondent | Reuters, Bangkok
UPDATED ON MAY 08, 2009 09:35 AM IST

Asian countries will increase stockpiles of medicine to fight the H1N1 flu virus and look at ways to share essential supplies in the event of an emergency, according to a statement drafted for a meeting on Friday.

Health ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus China, Japan and South Korea will also intensify cross-border cooperation and establish joint response teams to fight the spread of the virus, also known as swine flu.

The 13 countries will look at screening people leaving affected areas but are not planning travel bans.

Evidence showed that "imposing travel restrictions would have very little effect on stopping the virus from spreading, but would be highly disruptive to the global and regional communities and pose major negative impacts on the current global economic downturn," the statement said.

Asia has seen far fewer confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, which has killed 44 people in Mexico and two in the United States, and spread across Europe.

However, after the damage wrought by SARS and bird flu in recent years, Asian countries are taking no chances this time.

The statement said they would "assess the potential need and increase national stockpiling of antivirals and essential medicines, medical supplies and personal protective equipment to the level necessary for effective responses" if the flu spreads.

They would also "consider the establishment in ASEAN+3 countries of a system to facilitate the sharing of essential supplies in the region in case of emergency needs".

ASEAN comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines.

"Vaccines are one of the prime tools in the face of the pandemic, and there is a capacity for vaccine production in the ASEAN +3 region," Prat Boonyawongvirot, an official at Thailand's Ministry of Public Health, said at the meeting on Thursday.

Keiji Fukuda, acting assistant director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), urged Asian governments to stay alert for a possible wider pandemic that "could infect a third or more of the world's population in the next several months, in the next year".

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