Southeast Asian nations agreed on Friday to set up a task force to coordinate the fight against a deadly bird flu which has killed 31 people and ravaged poultry flocks across the region.
The avian influenza threatened “global public health, poultry production, trade and economic development,” agriculture ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) said in a statement after a two-day meeting. The H5N1 virus, which has killed 20 Vietnamese and 11 Thais, has proven resilient despite the slaughter of tens of millions of poultry since January. There was hope several months ago that the virus had been defeated, only to see it recur in Thailand and Vietnam in July. Indonesia is also battling the H5N1 virus, but says it is different from that in Thailand and Vietnam and cannot infect humans, an assertion the World Health Organization disputes. The ASEAN task force will hold its first meeting in Singapore before the end of 2004, a Singapore official said. ASEAN comprises Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. (Source: Reuters, Oct 2004)