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South Asia free of avian flu: SAARC

February 16, 2004 21:25 IST

Members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation adopted a resolution in New Delhi on Monday saying the region was free of deadly avian flu that has hit some Southeast Asian countries killing poultry and humans.

The disease was recognised as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), caused by H5N1 strain of virus.

The resolution declared that poultry and poultry products of this region were safe for human consumption.

Representatives of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended the daylong meeting along with officials of World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

The officials addressed a joint press conference after the meeting. This was the first ever meeting of SAARC countries to jointly fight the outbreak of an epidemic.

"We recognise the gravity of HPAI, which is rapidly spreading in many countries in Asia through H5N1 virus, even though the SAARC region is as yet free of this virus," the resolution said.

The resolution has been named as New Delhi Resolution. Health Secretary J V R Prasada Rao chaired the meeting.

Other strains -- H7 and H9 -- of the same virus have been found in Pakistan killing millions of poultry birds. But these strains do not have the capacity to kill human beings, officials said.

Baz Mohammed of Pakistan said: "No case of avian flu (caused by H7 and H9 strains) has been reported in Pakistan since January 1. It is fully under control."

"We have taken strict measure to counter the disease," he said. Mohammed is director general (livestock and fisheries) of Sindh province in Pakistan.

He said the disease had affected the port city of Karachi in November and didn't spread to other parts of Pakistan.

According to international norms, if the case of an epidemic is not reported for 21 days, it is considered to be under control, officials said.

The members decided to set up a surveillance centre at New Delhi-based National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD) to monitor the spread of avian flu in South Asia.

The NICD has the capability to detect the strains of the virus. A website will facilitate sharing of data and strategy to counter the disease.

The countries pledged to extend full cooperation in this regard. FAO representative, however, said it would take years to discover vaccine for the avian flu caused by H5N1 virus.

The resolution recommended temporary ban on import of live poultry and poultry meat products, eggs and egg products from affected countries. This ban, however, is already in force in all SAARC countries.

It also recommended temporary ban on the import of pet birds from all countries.

"We will revise this temporary ban after sometime," Rao said. The resolution called for establishing two national focal points, one in each country to monitor the implementation of the recommendations. An alert has been sounded to check migratory birds as they can spread the disease from one country to the other.

Kumara Rai of the WHO said: "looking at the situation in Vietnam and Thailand, we do not see the outbreak is going to be contained in 1 or 2 month from now."

FAO's Hans-Gerhard Wagner said: "We cannot say the disease has been halted or under control."

He added the H7 virus that has affected Pakistan might mutilate and become H5N1 after sometime. "Therefore we have to be vigilant," he said.

Twenty people -- 14 in Vietnam and six in Thailand -- have so far died due to this disease.

Complete coverage of the bird flu epidemic

Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi