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Vietnam needs more aid to fight bird flu


BRISBANE, Australia, Oct 31 (AFP): Vietnam called for more international assistance to fight bird flu today at a meeting of health officials from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
Deputy Health Minister Bui Ba Bong said bird flu was a global problem and all countries needed to cooperate to combat the spread of the disease.
"Roughly, we need 50 million US dollars ... we are looking for international support for our country," Bong told reporters after the meeting opened in Brisbane.
Bong said Vietnam-where over half of the more than 60 bird flu fatalities since late 2003 have occurred-needed funding and technical assistance, including help improving its diagnostic capabilities.
He also called on the international community to help Vietnam stockpile one million doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu in case a pandemic occurred.
"We would like to bring the attention of the world to our country so that we can get support and advice," he said.
Bong said while Vietnam already had a pandemic emergency plan prepared, it was keen to use the two-day meeting of APEC experts to hear how other countries were gearing up for the eventuality.
He rated as "very high" the chance of the H5N1 bird flu virus mutating into a form that could be easily passed between humans, threatening to spark a pandemic that could cost millions of lives.
"The government and the people have been working very hard to control the disease but we also realise that the chance of the infection shifting from birds to humans is very high and a possible pandemic may occur," he said.
The health experts from the 21 APEC economies and the World Health Organisation (WHO) will discuss emergency planning for a possible bird flu pandemic at the Brisbane meeting.
They are expected to discuss issues such as border closures, maintaining essential services, distribution of anti-viral treatments and rapid response options.
Australia has said it will consider cancellation of interstate travel, border closures in different parts of the country and cancellation of large public gatherings if a pandemic should occur.
However, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said today that it would only consider closing its borders in extreme circumstances.