November 3, 2005
AVIAN FLU: THREAT OF 'GLOBAL PANDEMIC' IS GROWING
** Some papers predict panic will accompany a pathogen "spreading like wildfire."
** International observers cite need for "global" prevention efforts to halt bird flu advance.
** Media outlets advise countries to put in place "contingency plans."
** Analysts foresee potential "damage to world trade" and "political deception."
'Bird flu panic is spreading' across the globe-- With bird flu "on the wing," reaching Britain, the EU's "panicky reactions" were noted by Hungary's political Vilaggazdasag. Since it is "impossible to stop nature in its tracks," Jamaica's moderate Gleaner agreed that panic "is not wholly misplaced." Asian analysts advised "positive precautionary measures" will prevent "unnecessary chaos and panic." The centrist Times of India urged the media to "strike the right balance" between "informing and inflaming" before ringing "alarm bells."
'Global disease prevention' efforts a must-- While many editorialists detailed steps to combat the bird flu, they remarked "everyone is responsible for preventing" it. Germany's leftist die tageszeitung claimed the international community has not taken necessary measures to tackle the virus since it turned up eight years ago. Hong Kong's independent South China Morning Post insisted "surveillance, transparency and prompt action" are the key elements of an "effective strategy." Indian and African writers called on the world to assist those African countries "poorly equipped" to deal with a possible outbreak; Argentina's moderate La Nación pledged support for a "coordinated and international response" to the "global threat."
'National bird flu preparedness plan'-- With the propagation of avian flu "extending to several continents without pause," countries must put in place "contingency plans" to deal with "potentially lethal consequences," wrote many analysts. Most countries are stockpiling anti-viral medicines while others are conducting public health awareness campaigns. Given the close contact between poultry and breeders in the region, Hong Kong's pro-PRC Ta Kung Pao insisted, "The most effective way to prevent avian flu human-to-human transmission" is to "reduce or avoid touching birds." Kenya's intellectual East African announced "early interventions" are key to saving lives.
'It's not just a health issue'-- The issue has now become entwined with questions of "company profits" and "health politics," claimed many writers. The Hong Kong Daily News worried that "large-scale slaughtering" of poultry and "import bans" will result in "huge economic losses"; Britain's center-left Independent alleged a flu pandemic might lead to a "global recession." The shortage of the drug Tamiflu is largely due to "purely business considerations," argued India's centrist Statesman. Argentina's leftist Página 12 wrote, with "growing international pressure" to "open the locks on pharmaceutical patents," the country may produce bird flu vaccines locally. A Taiwanese outlet stated, "human lives must be put before politics”; other Asian writers demanded an end to government "cover-ups" and "denials" of outbreaks.
Prepared by Media Reaction Division (202) 203-7888, firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR: Susan L. Emerson
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 48 reports from 14 political entities over 15 October - 1 November, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "Shaking Off The Flu"
The independent Financial Times warned (10/27): "No amount of forward planning could ever fully protect business against a bird flu pandemic. But much can be done to mitigate its effects, at relatively low cost. The sooner it is done, the better."
"Incompetence, Evasion And A Crisis In Public Health"
Center-left Independent editorialized (10/25): "The Government must sharpen up its response. It should start by ensuring the EU Commission pushes through a total ban on live wild bird imports in Brussels today. Then it should urgently review its quarantine arrangements. Otherwise it could find public confidence evaporating--with potentially lethal consequences."
"It's Not Just A Health Issue"
Associate editor Hamish McRae commented in the center-left Independent (10/19): "The main concern seems to me not so much one of direct damage to world trade, unless a pandemic were to reach such proportions that it would become impossible to move anything but essential goods and people around the world. That seems unlikely. Rather it seems to me that a flu pandemic would hit a world economy already weakened by other forces and would therefore tip it into some sort of global recession."
"The Real Implications Of A Bird Flu Pandemic"
Center-left Independent editorialized (10/18): "Sir Liam Donaldson [the UK government's chief medical officer] is expected to announce an update to the Government's contingency plans for bird flu on Thursday. We await what he has to say with considerable interest, but also with concern. Britain may be among the best prepared. But everything we have learnt so far suggests that this is a reflection less of our own government's farsightedness than of the lamentable lack of preparedness of others."
GERMANY: "The Virus Will Win"
Wolfgang Löhr commented in leftist die tageszeitung of Berlin (10/21): "The way the international community dealt and is still dealing with the South Asian avian flu appalling. It is high time to take the necessary measures. Already eight years ago, the H5N1 virus turned up in China for the first time. The virus could not be restricted despite the mass culling of infected birds."
"Efforts To Stop Spread Of Bird Flu"
Reinhard Mucker had this to say on regional radio station Norddeutscher Rundfunk of Hamburg (10/20): "Decisions with respect to the avian flu resemble a tightrope act...but there is no alternative to forcing farmers to keep their poultry indoors. The risk of a further spread of the avian flu will be reduced in any case. A clear decision linked to a comprehensive information policy will also create confidence among consumers. And as an aside: this is also the only chance for politicians to reduce their risks.... The issue must now be to prepare new decisions.... Even though the risks are relatively small right now, many experts agree that early next year is a much more likely time for the avian flu to appear in Europe, when migratory birds move in masses from South to North. This means that the real test is still to come. Then the current measures will not suffice. That is why we need a well-functioning crisis management right now in the Länder, in Berlin and in Brussels in particular."
HUNGARY: "No Virus But Panic"
Laszlo Hazafi stated in business/political daily Vilaggazdasag (10/21): “So far, Hungary has managed to thoroughly overreact to the bird flu issue. Although here the virus has not appeared in any form, it has taken us practically no time to find the phantom we nevertheless fight against in the meantime. One cannot say that the appearance of the pathogen in Europe has not brought about panicky reactions within the Union, but the psychosis that has emerged in Hungary seems to be a typically Hungarian specialty.... It is hard to believe, still it seems to be true that an entire business [poultry processing] might be ruined by the news of something which practically does not even exist yet. Or should we rather root for the psychosis to last, as long as the real virus never appears?”
ROMANIA: "The Political Significance Of A Contagious Disease"
In the independent centrist Ziua, Ioan Bogdan Lefter opined (10/20): "In fact neither our country nor those around us can be blamed for not doing everything that could be done in order to prevent the spread of the disease, and the way in which Romania has treated the unusual situation can be considered as a successfully passed test, not only epidemically speaking, but also for chapters such as the states’ action, capability and the quick reaction of its structures, its strict compliance with medical regulations and international standards, the good functioning within the European system and the take-over of the initiative in the region.... The way to stop this extremely serious, insidious, and mysterious disease is only one: it can only be defeated by the ‘global fight’ we’re already engaged in."
In the national opposition Jurnalul National, Mircea Cartarescu remarked (10/18): "Reality is different, of course.... The Europeans panicked when faced with several samples of the virus and with several victims.... But the panic is totally justified: tsunamis or earthquakes are only modest cataclysms as compared to a possible worldwide pandemic. The avian flu virus grew malignant in several parts of the world and has proven its capacity to infect people.... All that we, as the first European country where the danger has occurred, can only hope for is that the process [spread] to be stopped in time, by any means. Otherwise, we will be the first ones to be affected."
EAST ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "Avian Flu Has Not Yet Changed Its Way Of Transmission"
The center-left Chinese-language Hong Kong Daily News noted (10/28): "Judging from the current evidence, people get sick through their contacts with chickens and birds. There is no evidence that the virus is spreading through human-to-human transmission. If countries can kill and bury ill poultry immediately and educate their farmers not to eat dead poultry, it will be conducive to stopping the outbreak of avian flu. However, raising poultry is the major income of Southeast Asian farmers. A large-scale slaughtering of chickens will result in huge economic losses. In addition, local governments, because they lack money, do not have good compensation systems. For these reasons, they are not able to curb the virus. In the beginning, rich countries in Europe and America were not willing to provide any financial assistance. They just watched the fire from the other side of the river. Only after the avian flu spread around the world did they then hurriedly 'mend the fence.' However, some people already worry that their actions might have come too late."
"Unprecedented Outbreak Of Avian Flu"
The mass-circulation Chinese-language, center-right Oriental Daily News went on to say (10/26): "Avian flu is mainly spread in two ways: through the imports of poultry and through the migration of birds. If the virus is spread by the imports of poultry, we can guard against it through our quarantine system. But if it is caused by the migration of birds, we will have no way to guard against it. Experts have already issued a warning that migratory birds were high-risk mediums in spreading avian flu.... At the present stage, the Hong Kong government should make Mai Po Nature Reserve a restricted area to keep people away from birds. In addition, it should also take emergency measures to prevent migratory birds from flying to the city."
"The Government Should Be Cautious And The Public Should Be Rational"
The pro-PRC Chinese-language Wen Wei Po stated (10/26): "The avian flu is spread by migratory birds, and most of the outbreaks occur in developing countries with poor hygiene. However, the avian flu threat is worldwide. By only taking precautions in one country or one area, we will not be safe. The best way to deal with the pandemic is to set up a 'global joint defense.' Developed countries have better capabilities in preventing avian flu financially and technologically. Thus, they have the responsibility to help undeveloped areas by providing flu vaccines and drugs, and by producing precautionary drugs by releasing the patents and providing necessary financial assistance. This can help others, as well as themselves. As long as the world can enhance cooperation, the effort in preventing the avian flu will be more effective."
"Take Precautions Before The Outbreak"
The mass-circulation Chinese-language Apple Daily News remarked (10/26): "Although there is no evidence that the H5N1 virus can be transmitted from human to human, and the avian flu virus is still limited to bird-to-bird transmission, we are still not able to eradicate the virus in China and Southeast Asia, and the virus keeps on spreading. Thus, the risk of the H5N1 virus transmitting from human to human is increasing, and the threat of a new round of global pandemic is also growing. The international community needs to enhance cooperation to tackle the virus. The Hong Kong government, enterprises and Hong Kong people also need to take proper precautionary measures."
"The Risk Of Avian Flu Is Growing"
The independent Chinese-language Ming Pao Daily News opined (10/26): "After finding avian flu in many countries in Europe, avian flu was also found in Anhui province and Hunan province in China. The potential threat to Hong Kong is growing. Facing the worsening situation, the SAR government should take a two-pronged approach. First of all, it should turn from passive to active. It has to announce the situation to the public without delay. Secondly, it must systematically tell the public about precautionary measures and plans so that the public can be prepared for the pandemic calmly."
"Public Should Stop Stockpiling Tamiflu"
The pro-PRC Chinese-language Ta Kung Pao advised (10/26): "The most effective way to prevent the avian flu from human-to-human transmission is to reduce or avoid touching birds and not to rely on 'Tamiflu.' The Hong Kong University professor and SARS expert, Yuen Kwok-yung, reminded the public that paying attention to personal and environmental hygiene could largely lower the risk of catching the virus. At present, some experts have said that comments of human-to-human avian flu spreading around the world are alarmist talk. No matter whether the comments are true or not, it is necessary to take precautions. However, there is no need to panic or stockpile drugs blindly."
"Avian Flu Is Coming"
The pro-PRC Chinese-language Hong Kong Commercial Daily wrote (10/26): "The unprecedented avian flu pandemic is rapidly spreading around the world. In Asia, among the 76 provinces in Thailand, over half of them have been reported of having the virus. Indonesia confirmed that one more person died of avian flu. In Europe, more avian flu cases were found in Russia and suspected cases were found in Germany and Croatia. Yesterday, cases were reported in Anhui and Hunan provinces.... When facing the pandemic, we should not panic. Hong Kong has, after all, had experience in fighting pandemic, and it has a comprehensive medical system. As long as the government can get ready, we should be able to overcome the difficulties."
"Rules On Bird Flu Have Already Been Laid Out"
The independent English-language South China Morning Post said in an editorial (10/24): "Europeans are now facing up to the threat of bird flu for the first time. They would do well to follow the Hong Kong example, which has so effectively kept the virus at bay. In essence, that involves surveillance, transparency and prompt action.... H5N1 appeared in Hong Kong in 1997 and eventually killed six people. But the experience led to scientists and officials developing an effective strategy that has since prevented further deaths here, despite outbreaks of the virus elsewhere. That is not to say we are immune; merely that as long as we are prepared and keep a watchful eye, we will be better protected. A lowering of the defenses that experience has taught us are necessary will again create vulnerability. Europeans do not need to find out for themselves what to do--they need only follow our practices.... For now, that risk is small; but there is no room for complacency. The risk of another global pandemic, like those in 1918, 1957 and 1968, is real. How deadly that will be could well depend on Europeans, Asian and other governments around the world following the rules that Hong Kong has already laid down."
"Avian Flu Outbreak Possible; Risk To Hong Kong"
The independent Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal noted (10/24): "According to the WHO's assessment, an avian flu outbreak is highly possible given the continued increase of human H5N1 infections.... Can precautions be taken against an avian flu outbreak? The answer from the WHO is: 'No one knows with certainty.' It seems that in a short run, there is no way to find the best way to restrict the virus's spread. WHO contingency measures include stocking up to three million avian flu treatments in 2006. This should be able to stop an outbreak from spreading and buy time to produce more vaccines.... If avian flu is spreading rapidly [from person to person], Hong Kong will face a high risk. In addition to taking proper precautionary measures and drawing up contingency plans, related HKG departments should ensure that avian flu cases do not emerge in Hong Kong again. This is a crucial step. Once a case emerges, Hong Kong will have endless troubles."
"Safeguard Your Health"
The independent Chinese-language Sing Pao Daily News said in an editorial (10/24): "In 1997, deadly avian flu emerged in Hong Kong with the first known bird-to-human transmission. After culling all chickens in the territory, the virus seemed to disappear for a period of time. Recently, however, avian flu has reappeared on the mainland and in Southeast Asia, South Korea and Europe. At present, avian flu among humans has been limited to bird-to-human transmission, and the scope of infection remains limited. Scientists are concerned that the virus may acquire the ability to jump from human-to-human, repeating the pandemics that killed millions in the past. Although Hungary has claimed that it had developed a bird flu vaccine, its production fall far short of global need. Global demand for Tamiflu, which can cure avian flu, has been sparked.... Instead of stockpiling the drugs, it would be better for people to take proper precautionary measures, improve hygiene habits and maintaining a clean environment to safeguard their health."
"Be Careful With Avian Flu--And Don't Panic"
The pro-PRC Chinese-language Ta Kung Pao remarked (10/24): "Recently, avian flu deaths among birds have been reported around the world, causing tension in the WHO and health departments in many countries.... The people of Hong Kong should believe that the Hong Kong government has already paid enough attention to a potential outbreak and has taken positive precautionary measures. Hong Kong people should therefore not panic or be overly sensitive. Recently, people have been stockpiling anti-viral drugs. The government should remind people to take precautions. On the other hand, the government should also allay fears to prevent unnecessary chaos and panic. Local authorities should therefore clearly instruct people on the necessary and effective precautionary measures to prevent an irrational overreaction."
TAIWAN: "Avian Flu Needs To Be Stopped In Its Tracks"
Department of Public Health Associate Professor Chen Kow-tong wrote in the pro- independence, English-language Taipei Times (11/1): "An effective surveillance system is needed to discover the origins of an outbreak and any new cases of bird flu. The first reaction is to take people's temperature on a daily basis. As of yet, there have been no proven cases of human-to-human bird flu transmission and only around 120 confirmed cases of bird flu being transmitted to humans globally. Therefore, finding cases of actual bird flu given the amount of people who have a fever is like finding a needle in a haystack. Disease prevention personnel may well overlook an actual case given the sheer amount of data to review. To ensure an effective surveillance system, there should be a stricter definition of which symptoms characterize the onset of bird flu. Once a case of bird flu is confirmed in Taiwan, the government should amend its definition to be more inclusive. Only by doing so can the government get the situation under control and prevent panic from setting in. A disease prevention program should be specific, flexible and able to change depending on how the disease behaves. The recent cases of bird flu have all been reported among people who have had frequent contact with fowl. Therefore, the government should strengthen its efforts in this regard. A local outbreak will increase demands on human and material resources. Therefore, the government has to come to grips with the pandemic at an early stage and prevent the disease from spreading within the nation. We should also make good use of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, since it is capable not only of curing the disease but also of preventing the spread of the bird flu virus. However, we should not regard it as a wonder drug and distribute it to everyone in Taiwan."
"Bird Flu Calls For Cross-Strait Honesty"
The pro-independence, English-language Taipei Times wrote (10/30): "[A]s the threat from the [bird flu] disease looms large in neighboring countries and countries further afield, Taiwan, like other members of the international community, should play a more active role in preventing and tackling outbreaks of avian flu. The biggest threat to Taiwan would be a serious outbreak of bird flu in China.... In view of the serious health threat posed by the flu to the entire region, Beijing should abandon its past practices and keep both the international community, especially close neighbors such as Taiwan, up to date with news of any outbreak of the disease. In addition, in view of the nation’s continued success in keeping out H5N1, Taiwan should be rewarded by being given the chance to play a greater role in sharing its experiences with other members of the international community."
"The Bird Flu Has Come, But Taiwan Has To Face A Lot More Challenges"
The centrist, pro-status quo China Times editorialized (10/22): "[I]n order to carry out well the prevention of a new wave of bird flu that has gotten on the world’s nerves, Taiwan has to face a lot more challenges than other countries. In particular, [we should pay attention to] how Taiwan cooperates with China, a ‘nest of viruses’ viewed by international medical agencies; and how Taiwan seeks support from the World Health organization (WHO). In fact, Taiwan doesn’t have enough ‘chips’ to overcome these two variables: there is only a strait between Taiwan and China, and cross-Strait exchanges of passengers and goods are frequent. Smuggling in the coastal area has also become a blind spot to prevent bird flu outside the island, i.e. Taiwan’s territory. The world depends on the WHO to manage and distribute the insufficient supply of Tamiflu. Since Taiwan is not covered under the WHO net, it becomes a hot potato for Taiwan to obtain vaccines that cannot be bought by money."
"China’s Bird Flu Attacks Taiwan"
The "Free Talk" column of the pro-independence Liberty Times expressed (10/21): "The Council of Agriculture confirmed Thursday that a seized cargo of birds smuggled from China to Taiwan have tested positive for the H5N1 bird virus. Even though these birds have been destroyed and chances are therefore slim for the avian flu to spread [in Taiwan] this time, this incident can be viewed as a major warning signal for the island. If Taiwan continues to overlook the problem of growing smuggled Chinese goods into the island and fails to take effective action to prevent them, things such as harmful foods or guns will enter Taiwan that will deteriorate the island’s social order and the health of Taiwan people. An even worse case will be the bird flu which will be spread from China to Taiwan...and put all Taiwan people in the purgatory of plague."
"Health Politics And Halting Bird Flu"
The pro-independence, English-language Taipei Times asserted (10/20): "Taiwanese, like everyone else in the world, are concerned about the spread of this disease. But as Taiwan is not a member of the World Health organization (WHO)--because of China’s incessant political interference--it is excluded from the global disease prevention and control network. As a result, it can only seek help indirectly from other WHO member nations. This makes a mockery of the WHO’s humanitarian and sans frontier claims. It also poses a threat to the Taiwanese population, and leaves open a loophole in the international public health network. Whether looked at from the perspective of Taiwan’s basic rights to healthcare or global disease prevention, we can never allow the nightmare of our near-solitary fight against the SARS epidemic in 2003 to happen again. Instead, the WHO should accept Taiwan’s allocation to become an observer nation. Human lives must be put before politics.”
"Everyone Responsible For Preventing Avian Flu"
The pro-independence, English-language Taiwan News went on to say (10/20): “Therefore, our country should take the opportunity offered by the upcoming meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Pusan, South Korea to propose cross-border cooperation for research and effective vaccine development. If we are able to promote the successful development and production of effective vaccines through the APEC mechanism, Taiwan will have made a major contribution to global society.... Official efforts to raise awareness are especially critical, given Taiwan's geographic location as a key stop on the migration paths of various types of birds in East Asia and its role as a nesting and breeding spot in the autumn for birds flying from the north from northeast China, Siberia, the Korean peninsula and Japan to Southeast Asia or the South China Sea."
THAILAND: "No Time For The Usual Politics And Deception"
Tulsathit Taptim commented in the independent, English language The Nation (10/26): "If the Thaksin government is well aware of the worst-case scenario and more or less prepared to respond to an outbreak, the administration has not told us. Understandably, many things have to be done behind the scenes, but can we have total trust in a government accused of a cover-up when bird flu struck Thailand’s poultry industry last year? Are Thais being fully informed about the scale of the threat posed by avian influenza? All the country has heard from the prime minister is that everything is fine.... He could be right. But he was wrong before about the previous outbreaks, which luckily only ravaged Thailand’s poultry industry.... The virus may or may have not mutated, but here Thais can only pray that our politicians who like cover-ups have changed. If they have not, there won’t even be enough time to name the virus after them."
"Big Country, Big Letdown"
The lead editorial in the top-circulation, moderately conservative, English language Bangkok Post read (10/19): “It has been eight years since bird flu first killed people in Hong Kong and three years after it began spreading and killing people in Indonesia's ASEAN neighbours. Yet when the first cases appeared last month and started killing Indonesians, the main reaction was still denial. There still has been no program to find and cull birds, hospitals have been ordered to cover up deaths from the flu, and the country has flatly refused suggestions from the World Health Organization on quarantining farms and isolating known outbreaks of the disease.... As a founding member of ASEAN, Indonesia owes a better performance to itself and its neighbors.”
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
INDIA: "The Bird Flu Threat"
The Guwahati English independent Assam Tribune emphasized (11/1): "The latest round of concern centering on bird flu is not without reason.... No country is equipped to cope with a large-scale influenza outbreak that might happen. What is noteworthy is that there is still no vaccine against a possible new human flu variant. What is available right now is only a couple of virus inhibitors. India has so far escaped the threat but a major outbreak could prove cataclysmic given our poor standards of hygiene.... The bird flu outbreak has affected global trade, particularly in poultry, and also strained relations between nations with the exporting countries taking umbrage at the importing countries that put a ban. The latest group of countries that has imposed a ban is the European Union (EU) that has prohibited imports of captive live birds after a parrot arriving in the United Kingdom from South America was found carrying the H5N1 virus. The ban will not be applied to poultry imported for commercial purposes. There is little to suggest that consumption of poultry and eggs, even if infected, can do much harm as long as they are properly cooked. Few people are convinced though. What is needed right now is a concerted global effort to fight the bird flu threat. The efforts till date have been sporadic and localized. Research efforts into developing an effective vaccine to combat the virus should also be bolstered without delay."
"Fear Takes Wing"
The centrist Indian Express opined (10/28): "The official Indian response to the international global alert on the avian influenza front, ranges from the complacent to the panic-stricken. But neither complacency nor panic can address a very real threat from the skies. Preparedness, however, can.... The Indian government, on its part, has tested over 12,000 samples and has declared India free from the disease thus far. We need to, one, ensure that this is indeed the case by continuing to rigorously study and monitor the migratory movement of wild birds and test samples on an on-going basis. Two, we need measures to protect domestic poultry from the threat.... There are no short cuts. International authorities caution against the destruction of wild birds or their habitat in a bid to prevent or control the potential epidemic.... Information then becomes a major ally in the battle against avian flu...most of India’s chickens are reared under extremely ad hoc conditions in small farms and homesteads. We therefore need greater awareness of the virus and access to veterinary services at the local level."
"Deaths and Profits"
The centrist Statesman criticized (10/28): "It must be a failure of medical science that the world today is woefully short of Tamiflu, the single drug that can prevent a possible bird flu pandemic. What makes the tragedy still more profound is that the shortage stems in large part from purely business considerations of a corporate enterprise...the success of such enterprise hinges substantially on the availability of the anti-viral drug. As they grapple with the outbreak, the affected countries have reached a stage when it isn't possible to procure the medication independently or even through international collaboration. Central to a possible breakthrough is the cooperation of Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, that holds the patent. Breaking the patent to produce the drug is perhaps easier said than done. An international effort is needed to convince the company on the dire need for transfer of technology.... In a global emergency, humanitarian considerations must outweigh narrow concerns over intellectual property and company profits. Even if Roche were to surrender its patent, another disaster will perhaps be staved off in the future; the scenario for the present is much too bleak and there is no scope for a quick-fix solution.... A change in the mindset of the pharmaceutical industry is now imperative. It is a tragedy of the times that coping with bird flu has now become a question of life and death...and company profits."
"Alarm Bells Should Be Rung With Caution"
The centrist Times of India warned (10/28): "Thanks in no small part to the media, the only thing spreading like wildfire right now is not so much the potential likelihood of an avian flu pandemic but the totally irrational and counterproductive panic associated with it. Meaning, while the agents of alarm may have taken to their wings, the reality on the ground is completely different.... The first thing to remember is that every report of a fresh outbreak circulating in the news refers to infected birds and not humans.... Also, there is no overwhelming evidence as yet that the H5N1 avian-influenza virus is about to mutate into a form that can directly infect humans or make them carriers.... The public should also be made to understand that there are clear differences between the great flu pandemic that killed some 40 million people in 1918-19 and a similar virulent outbreak happening today.... The reach of today's various media, on the other hand, is not only immediate and pervasive but hugely accessible by hundreds of millions of people. True, the threat of an impending pandemic is there and it should definitely not be taken lightly, but this is where the real role of a responsible media comes in--to learn to strike the right balance between informing and inflaming."
"Much Flu About Nothing"
Foreign affairs editor Pramit Pal Chaudhuri analyzed in nationalist Hindustan Times (10/27): "The present outbreak of avian influenza...will not kill even 200 people. It will devastate a lot of chicken farmers and ruin a lot of Christmas turkey dinners. Finally, by next spring, the world will have found a new disease to get panicky about.... This strain was detected in 1997 and is known to have killed about 75 people since then.... In comparison, tuberculosis and malaria knock off three million people each year. Bird flu panic, on the other hand, has spread like wildfire across the globe.... The H5N1 avian virus has taken the first step.... In other words, the world is still two and a half Darwinian degrees of separation from a pandemic. And bird flu is taking its sweet time about evolving further.... To stop a disease that has killed less than 100 people, tens of thousands of small farmers in Asia have been ruined by bird culls that have run past the 140 million mark.... In the meantime, governments are spending billions on actions that are often more about symbolism than science.... When patents come under threat so do profits, private firms stop doing research about that disease and the chances for a genuine cure recede.... Tamiflu, a non-cure for a hypothetical pandemic, is a poor case for the extreme action of patent breaking. No one should think that bird flu is not a threat. Given the right conditions and enough time, the virus will jump through the genetic hoops needed to make it a mass killer.... The present bird flu crisis will burn itself out in the next few months. Its legacy, however, is shaping up to be the worst of all worlds: unenlightened public, unreformed poultry industry and less medical research.... Don't stock up on Tamiflu. Don't socialize with South-east Asian chicken farmers. Eat Christmas turkey or butter chicken or whatever, just cook it well."
"Bird Flu Is Back"
Pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer noted (10/21): "Bird flu...has reared its head again. Thailand...just two countries to the east, has confirmed 13 deaths already. Clearly, the deadly H5N1 virus cannot be contained in isolation by a particular country. The Taiwan government has revealed that it had found birds infected with the lethal flu in a container smuggled from China, the first case on the island since late 2003.... Considering the vulnerability of India, the official silence is regrettable. While President George W. Bush of the United States has gone public with his concern, there is hardly any responsible voice in India articulating the hovernment's commitment to combating it. With the onset of winter...the country will host millions of guests who cannot be cleared by any immigration system. We are talking about the migratory birds who make their annual visitations from Russia, China and other parts of northern Asia.... The Center must set up a standing panel of experts focused on checking the advent of bird flu.... The government must show it is in charge."
"Enemy At The Gates"
The nationalist Hindustan Times declared (10/20): "The detection of avian flu-infected-birds--and...the H5N1 virus--in Turkey has triggered a panic of sorts in Europe. Our priority now is...to procure Tamiflu, the only drug that can tackle those infected. But the problem lies in the fact that the drug is currently held under exclusive patent by Swiss multinational Roche.... The death of three persons recently in Indonesia, none of whom had ever handled birds, has aroused fears that the virus may have mutated to a human one already. The repeated warnings by WHO that the virus may cause the next big flu pandemic are at last waking up governments to the danger at hand. No country is prepared to handle a flu epidemic, least of all super populated ones like India. In this context, Cipla's statement that it could produce cheaper versions of Tamiflu, irrespective of whether Roche grants it a license or not, must not be seen as a case of ignoring patent laws, but a step towards combating a potential national emergency.... If India is hit, it won't take much to overwhelm our healthcare systems. More than drug companies, it is for the health ministry to ensure sufficient stockpiles. In the meantime, the government must closely monitor the progress of the virus around the world and act quickly to counter any breach in the country's defenses."
"Increased Risk Of Bird Flu Spreading To Middle East, Africa"
Chennai-based centrist The Hindu highlighted (10/20): "The bird flu strain is spreading outside South East Asia along the pathways of migratory birds and could hit the Middle East and African countries that are poorly equipped to deal with an outbreak, a UN agency said on Wednesday. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the risk of bird flu spreading to those regions has markedly increased with the discovery of the H5N1 virus in Romania and Turkey. 'One of our major concerns is now the potential spread of avian influenza through migratory birds to northern and eastern Africa,' Joseph Domenech, Chief Veterinary Officer at the Rome-based agency, said in a statement. 'There is a serious risk that this scenario may become a reality,' he said. Erwin Northoff, a spokesman at the FAO, said bird flu would be even harder to deal with in Africa than in Asia, because weak veterinary services lack the resources to vaccinate or slaughter animals to guard against infection. Domenech said that while Middle Eastern and North African countries should be capable of building up defenses against bird flu, East Africa provided more of a concern. Warning of the possible consequences of an outbreak in Africa, the agency appealed to the international community to help the region improve its ability to tackle a possible outbreak. EU foreign ministers called bird flu a global threat on Tuesday after the discovery of new cases in Greece, Romania and Turkey. On Wednesday, preliminary tests detected the H5N1 strain of bird flu in samples taken from a region south of Moscow where hundreds of birds died suddenly. If confirmed, the discovery would mark the first appearance of the strain in European Russia, west of the Ural Mountains."
KENYA: "Poultry Bans Not Enough"
The intellectual weekly East African with regional distribution noted (Internet version, 10/25): "The decision by the three East African Community states to ban poultry imports from countries with confirmed outbreaks of bird flu is a welcome step. The region needs to make every effort to to keep out the deadly virus, which has so far killed more than 60 people and millions of birds in Asia. However, the efforts actually made by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania so far, fall seriously short of those taken by countries in regions such as Europe, where health authorities are already stockpiling Tamiflu, the anti-viral most effective against the human form of the infection. The virus, which has now spread to Europe, has the potential of causing devastating epidemics in both poultry and humans, and the Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that East Africa could become a hotspot unless rigorous containment measures are taken.... The announcement by multinational drug maker Roche that it will not use its patent to restrict nations at risk of a human epidemic from independently manufacturing the medicine has opened a window of opportunity. Producing the drug locally will be a smart decision since global demand, especially from the developed countries, is such that Roche's facilities are already overstretched. But our governments also need to immediately launch public health awareness programs on the risk of transmission posed by migratory birds. People who keep poultry across the region need to be told about the telltale signs of the avian flu, as well as to be alerted to the dangers of handling diseased birds. Other viral epidemics in East Africa, including HIV/AIDS and Ebola in northern Uganda, have already shown that early interventions can save lives."
"Don't Wait For Bird Flu To Hit"
Independent left-of-center Nation (Internet version, 10/24): "The government seems to be sending out mixed signals about its determination to fight the bird flu threat. On the one hand, Director of Medical Services James Nyikal rules out the importation of the two anti-viral drugs used to treat the deadly disease. And at the same time, however, he assures Kenyans that if there is an outbreak, the World Health Organization will ensure that the drugs are made available. While assuring the public that no cases of bird flu have been noted, so far, the government acknowledges that the greatest risk is posed by migratory birds coming from areas where outbreaks have occurred. It is one thing to ban imports of eggs and live birds, but quite impossible to stop nature in its tracks. Birds are no respecters of borders, hence the risk we face should those infected land here. Therefore, the best we can do is to be fully prepared to face the pandemic, with the medicines within easy reach. This is more logical than having to wait for the WHO to fly the supplies in when it's too late and endanger people's lives. This knee-jerk reaction to an impending disaster increasingly seems to be how Kenya reacts to all threats.... Around the world, and Kenya is no exception, the poultry industry has been growing tremendously since the economic liberalization in recent years. As a consequence, billions of birds and animals on industrial farms live in overcrowded and poorly ventilated environments--prime conditions for the spread of contagious diseases. Since prevention is better than cure, we should begin looking at effective legislation to encourage humane and sustainable forms of poultry and animal rearing. The government should take a more proactive stance in boosting our protections against today's bird flu and any other future pandemics."
UGANDA: "Christmas Without The Usual Chicken?"
The independent Daily Monitor editorialized (10/24): "Bird flu is bad, even for Africans. But there has been lukewarm attention paid since experts confirmed that migrating birds are carrying the potentially deadly H5N1bird flu virus from Asia through Europe to Africa. Predictions that the migrating bird will pitch camp in the East African Rift Valley at about December have yielded little excitement among our people who usually celebrate Christmas by consuming huge amounts of chicken and turkey. Fortunately, past outbreak of Ebola, cholera, sleeping sickness, HIV/AIDS, and malaria have taught the government some tough lessons. It has appointed a task force to oversee the coordination and implementation of a national bird flu preparedness plan. It has also banned imports of poultry from parts of Asia affected by bird flu. But tightening monitoring at airports and other border points will contribute little in the surveillance of the migrating birds. Although this virus poses little threat to humans, we must be more prepared for the worst. So the potential threat of the virus mutating into a strain that passes easily among people intensifies. If this happened, experts fear up to 150 million people could die. That is why the World Health Organization needs to urgently stock up on the Tamiflu vaccine in vulnerable countries. The government must also be prepared to enforce the quarantine and slaughter of suspected birds and issue general prevention guidelines to the public. Implementing such strategies, and others that the medical experts can conjure up, should hopefully ensure that there will be chicken on the menu this Christmas."
"Bird Flu Too Far From Uganda? Think Again"
Austin Ejiet opined in the independent weekly Sunrise (10:24): "Something unusual is happening in Eastern Europe. In the last ten days or less a potentially deadly strain of the avian or bird flu, the H5N1 virus, has been detected in Ukraine, Turkey, Rumania, and just last Monday, also in one of the numerous Greek Islands. What first appeared in far away Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand a few months ago, has traversed seven or eight time zones, leaving 60 or so persons dead in its wake. Sooner than later the birds will discover that the south, i.e. Africa and other tropical lands affords warmers holiday resorts than the frozen Western Europe. And Voila! Africa too will have a few diseased chickens wandering around. But I don’t think we have to wait for the infected birds of the Far East to change their migratory destinations. We are busy importing poultry from Europe every day! The problem is that the imported poultry designed for toothless old men is liable to contaminate even the most hardened native birds. If this happens--or should we say “when this happens”--then perhaps 1918 will be repeated all over again. As if World War I hadn’t been enough, there was an influenza epidemic that killed an estimated 20 million people worldwide. If you are a poulterer, therefore, think twice before you buy those golden 'day-old' or 'two-days-old' chicks from the 'civilized country.'"
ARGENTINA: "Avian Flu: EU Launches Dramatic Warning"
Daily-of-record, moderate, pro-U.S. La Nación wrote (10/19): "The EU warned yesterday that avian flu represents a 'global threat' and urged to give the problem a 'coordinated and international response,' given the signs of a possible expansion of the disease and fear of a pandemic in case of a mutation of the most dangerous variation of the virus. Gathered in Luxembourg, in an emergency session after the confirmation of a case of avian flu in Greece, EU Foreign Ministers also acknowledged the bloc is unable to protect itself but, nevertheless, reiterated a calm message, without signs of alarm. In fact, the EU ministers' declaration tried to be reassuring, by praising the quick reaction of the European Commission after the presence of the dangerous H5N1 virus was confirmed in Turkey and Romania last week."
"Avian Flu: Limits"
International editor Marcelo Cantelmi opined in leading, centrist Clarín (10/19): "If there were previous doubts and speculations on the threat of the avian flu virus, the announcement of Roche laboratory will multiply them. The Swiss multinational said it will open its patent in order for potential competitors to produce one of the two most requested medicines to fight this disease. It's a step that is only justified by a threat of serious and overwhelming characteristics that requires a gigantic stock of medicines. The announcement was made after the summit of EU foreign ministers, which seems to have put a 'common sense' limit to the market, by preventing business from taking security as hostage. Because, at times of ruthless commercial fundamentalism, some sins cannot take place."
"Argentina: Ready To Copy Anti-viral Formulas"
Leading, centrist Clarín clarified (10/19): "National Health Minister Gonzalez Garcia said yesterday he's not scared; he's worried. And 'we're in a better position than most of the world.' All in all, he said the country is already stocking the anti-virals against avian flu, although he didn’t mention the number of doses Argentina counts on, and said that, eventually, Argentina might try to 'produce the vaccine skipping the patent system.' At a press round-table, he admitted 'the risk (of a pandemic), but we're far from those countries where there are already cases. Anyway, we're going to participate in the global strategy as if we were a high-risk country'.... According to experts, the present doses of Tamiflu (from Roche) or Relenza (from Glaxo) won't be enough if a pandemic breaks out. Therefore, Gonzalez Garcia pointed out 'we're analyzing with other countries the possibility of producing the drug outside the patents system,' and explained 'there's an international mechanism aimed at generating compulsive licenses, in case of a threat to public health.'"
"Unlocking The Door To Patents"
International columnist Pedro Lipcovich argued in leftist Página 12 (10/19): "The Health Minister's announcement that Argentina might produce--outside the patents regime--medicines to fight avian flu... is based on international agreements which allow this in case of urgent risks to public health. Gonzalez Garcia promised to support this idea at the international meeting for Health Ministers that will take place next week in Canada. According to the minister, the production of vaccines might take place via public laboratories; the possibility of producing them locally depends on international negotiations. The announcements were made in the framework of growing international pressure aimed at opening the locks on pharmaceutical patents in the case of a pandemic."
BRAZIL: "Preventing the Flu"
Liberal Folha de S. Paulo editorialized (10/21): "Brazil has decided, though, in a late fashion, to prepare for an eventual [Avian] flu epidemic.... If only 5% of the projected scenario occurs--150 million deaths worldwide--the investment will have paid off.... The world is facing an unprecedented event.... It is preparing to deal with a threat which does not exist yet.... The possibility of a flu pandemic is real and justifies preventive measures. But because it is not clear what type of virus one will have to deal with, the best strategy is epidemiological vigilance."
COLOMBIA: "Lessen Chicken Fever"
Medellin-based daily El Colombiano advised (10/21): "We are facing a severe public health, economic and social problem generated by bird fever that started approximately two years ago, with a general alert when it provoked a human transmission epidemic in Asia causing dozens of deaths.... Since its first appearance in 1997 in Hong Kong, its propagation has extended to several continents without pause.... Unfortunately, one of the variants of the bird fever appeared in Colombia.... The weakness of the sanitary and fitosanitary system is a problem with multiple implications for the country. In the first place, we have a highly inefficient system que does not permit an effective prevention of plant or animal illnesses. Second, we lack instruments and the ability to react to isolate and eliminate outbreaks.... Third, the inefficiency of the fitosanitary system is a severe limitation for the country to insert itself into world markets, complying with international demands.... It is urgent for the country to establish an excellent fitosanitary system. Without it, it is not possible to advance the transformation of agriculture and its insertion into the international arena."
JAMAICA: "Bird Flu Alert"
The moderate, influential daily Gleaner opined (10/15): "Health experts are warning that it is not a matter of if, but of when, where, and how badly people will be affected, as the global alert for Asian bird flu intensifies.... We have reported that Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke has instructed the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry to work closely with the Ministry of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that no infected birds are imported into the island. As the WHO has pointed out, an adequate response to the threat requires full international collaboration and co-ordination among agencies and sectors within particular countries. A crucial part of the whole effort is individual responsibility. The magnitude of the threat, not just to the country but to the individual, warrants a massive public education campaign around avoiding bird-to-bird transmission and human-to-human transmission.... Prevention is essentially the only viable option and the population must be prepared, as far as possible, to responsibly exercise this option."
Columnist Gwynne Dyer wrote in moderate, influential daily Gleaner (10/16): "As migratory birds carry the avian influenza virus west across Europe, Britain is following in the footsteps of Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Turkey and asking hunters to shoot down as many incoming ducks and geese as possible. They have been issued with bird-flu testing kits to see if their victims are carrying the dreaded virus, but they really have little to worry about: all the cases of direct bird-to-human infection, now over a hundred in total, have occurred on family farms in South-East Asia. The panic over bird flu is not wholly misplaced.... Only in the past couple of decades has it been widely understood that almost all the quick-killer infectious diseases that have emerged to ravage human populations since the rise of civilization come from our own domestic animals.... The places where the style of farming and the density of human and animal populations still favor the easy movement of diseases from animals into people are mostly in Asia, particularly in South-East Asia.... In the longer run, farmers throughout the region must be encouraged to change their long-established ways of raising poultry, pigs and other animals. That is a tall order, but similar shifts in farming practices have already happened elsewhere, and at least the region's economy is developing fast enough that it can provide markets for a more commercial style of farming and non-farm jobs for those no longer needed on the land."
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