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Published:May 1st, 2006 10:11 EST
International Cooperation meetings to guard against pandemic

International Cooperation meetings to guard against pandemic

By Laurie Salem

In Moscow on April 28, Health ministers from the Group of 8 countries, met and discussed steps to join to gather to battle infectious diseases, which include pandemic influenza, HIV- AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. An agreement was signed on April 27 to improve South Asia's potential to respond to a pandemic.

Stewart Simonson, US Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, reached an agreement with the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh. In a statement released by Health and Human Services, Simonson had this to say: "This memorandum of understanding will help better protect the world by strengthening Bangladesh's disease surveillance infrastructure." He met with government officials from both the animal and human health specialties to discuss collaboration on pandemic aptness and response. Simonson held similar meetings with officials in India.

Many international countries have joined together on disease surveillance and prevention on reaction to a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus that has spread, through birds, to almost 50 countries across Asia, Europe, the Near East, and Africa. This virus has claimed 200 million birds and many have been destroyed in an attempt to prevent further spreading. In nine countries, over 200 people were infected; of them 113 have died. On April 21, the World Health Organization reported the latest human deaths: four deaths confirmed in Egypt with a total of 12.  Twelve 12 fatalities reported by Chinese officials, with a total of 18 cases.

Ailing chickens seem to have passed this potentially lethal strain to humans. There is, however, no indication that H5N1 can be passed through a cough, a sneeze, or a handshake. If that were the case, it could trigger pandemic disease.

Attention has been called to the various strategies for limiting infection and prevention of spreading. The disease could cause tens of millions of deaths in addition to major damage economically and socially.

IOM, the Institute of Medicine, decided that using uncostly, disposable medical masks and respirators to prevent influenza infection is not substantiated by scientific evidence.

"Even the best respirator or surgical masks will do little to protect a person who uses it incorrectly, and we know relatively little about how effective these devices will be against flu, even when they are used correctly,: Says Donald S. Burke who is a professor of international health and epidemiology at Bloomberg school of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the IOM panel.

In response to an HHS request for an evaluation on the reuse of these masks in case of a full-blown pandemic, this report was filed. In the case of reuse, repeated cleaning of the masks may damage the material on it that traps infectious particles inside erroneous materials, which covers the mouth, making the mask itself ineffective.

Tests conducted on these masks have certified the masks to protect the wearer from certain substances; however, influenza was not used in the tests.

The 2003 SARS panic in Asia caused response of wearing masks to control spreading and infection. Although the experience provides some data, that data is limited and discrepant in some cases. The IOM panel believes that predicting how influenza viruses are spread from person to person is essential and vital in preparing a defense against it.

Source:  U.S. Dept. of State