WORLD Health Organisation experts left Beijing last Monday to investigate the site of a poultry outbreak in central China, while Indonesia's president said his country could not afford the mass slaughter of poultry in bird flu-infected areas.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's remarks last Monday came ahead of a visit by European Union Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou, who is slated to discuss ways to help boost the country's fight against the H5N1 bird flu virus.
International experts say slaughtering healthy birds close to the site of infected flocks is the best way to contain the spread of the virus.
"There is a problem with mass culling," Yudhoyono said. "That is money." He said he hopes the World Bank (WB) will be able to help compensate farmers who slaughter birds.
Meanwhile, a team of WHO experts traveled to China's central region where a bird flu outbreak was reported among poultry. Three people fell ill in the same village in Hunan, including a 12-year-old girl who died, after the government reported 545 chickens and ducks died of bird flu last month. The H5N1 bird flu virus has not been ruled out as the cause of the human infection.
The six-member WHO team is expected to stay a week, working with Chinese officials to investigate the outbreak, said Roy Wadia, WHO spokesman in Beijing.
In addition, top leaders from the 21 Pacific Rim economies were expected to sign off on a statement that calls for increased cooperation on fighting bird flu this week at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Busan, South Korea.
Senior officials last Monday fine-tuned the wording of the leaders' statement, which an official said included an agreement to help each other develop a vaccine and to enhance information-sharing among countries.
Experts fear the H5N1 strain of the bird flu that is sweeping Asia could mutate into a version easily passed between humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions. The virus has killed at least 64 people in Southeast Asia. Most cases have been traced to contact with infected birds.
Vietnam has been the hardest-hit country, logging two-thirds of the human deaths. Last Monday, officials in the communist country said they plan to shut down two wild bird sanctuaries in the southern Mekong Delta, while more outbreaks among poultry were reported in the nine affected provinces.
Tram Chim National Park and Gao Giong ecological tourist zone have closed down access to bird sanctuaries, said Nguyen Be Hien, director of the Dong Thap provincial animal health department. The two wetland areas are home to hundreds of thousands of wild birds and Tram Chim is part of a migratory bird route.
Meanwhile, businesses have urged Pacific Rim leaders gathering for their annual summit to push for a breakthrough in the current round of stalled global trade talks to help foster trade in the region, another AP report from Busan adds.
"We believe that the negotiations require an injection from political leaders, of commitment and determination to achieve a successful outcome," the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum's Business Advisory Council said in a letter to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.
"We urge APEC leaders to exert their collective will in ways that cannot be denied," said the business lobby, which was scheduled to meet in Busan last Monday.
The World Trade Organisation's so-called Doha round of negotiations have come to a near standstill because of differences over ending tariff and other protection of agricultural markets, especially in Europe, and other reasons.
APEC officials are worried the talks could collapse if progress is not made at a WTO meeting in Hong Kong next month. They were working last Monday to fine tune the wording of what is expected to be a strong statement by leaders to be issued at their summit next Friday and Saturday.
The 21-member APEC, founded in 1989, has as its aim achieving free trade among all its members by 2020. The group, which includes seven of the 13th largest economies in the world, represents more than a third of the earth's population, about 60 per cent of the global economy and nearly half of world trade.