APEC Ministerial Meeting on Avian and Influenza Pandemics

Da Nang, Viet Nam, 04 May 2006
  • Speech by Ambassador Tran Trong Toan, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
Excellency Mr. Vu Khoan, Deputy Prime Minister, S. R. of Viet Nam
Excellency Mr. Cao Duc Phat, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development,
Excellency Madam Tran Thi Trung Chien, Minister of Health,
Honorable Mr. Hoang Tuan Anh, Chairman of the Da Nang Provincial People's Committee
Excellencies the Ministers responsible for Avian and Influenza Pandemics,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great honour to be invited to attend the APEC Ministerial Meeting on Avian and Pandemic Influenza. On behalf of the APEC Secretariat, I would like to express our warmest congratulations and appreciation to the Government of Viet Nam for organizing this very important event.
A serious situation that cannot be underestimated
Avian influenza has over the past 3 years developed into a very serious pandemic that has spread quickly around many areas of the world. In the period of 2003-2005, avian influenza was discovered in just 15 countries and regions, but in the first 5 months of 2006 there were 30 additional countries and regions affected with this deadly virus.
Most recently, on 27 April 2006, the Chinese Ministry of Health registered the 18th case of avian influenza in humans in China's Xichuan province, while the Ivory Cost authorities informed that two H5N1 influenza pandemic pockets had broken out in this tiny country. On the same day, Dr. David Nabarro, the UN Coordinator on Avian Influenza Pandemic, confirmed that since early this year avian influenza pandemic has transmitted to 30 countries, thus bringing the number of countries affected with H5N1 so far up to 45 since its first case erupted in 2003. According to the WHO's latest report, by the end of April, there have been 204 cases of humans infected with avian influenza virus H5N1. Out of these 113 people died, while Dr. Nabarro anticipated that the number of people infected with H5N1 might be much higher than the official statistics. Over 200 million poultry have been culled so far and this has made the life of numerous poor farmers more miserable.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the situation regarding avian influenza pandemic is serious with outbreaks in a number of APEC economies. The pandemic has claimed huge losses of property and human lives, thus detrimentally worsening the living and business environment and posing a substantial threat to the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region. In the worse case, if and when bird flu mutates and can be passed from human to human, and in view of the greater and freer flows of trade and people in this increasingly globalized world, the potential damage will be unimaginably enormous.
Why and how has APEC responded to avian and influenza pandemics?
To achieve its goals of economic development and prosperity in the region through free and open trade and investment, APEC has for many years focused its activities on trade and investment liberalization and facilitation as well as economic and technical cooperation. However, APEC's efforts to promote trade and investment have been seriously affected by outbreaks of pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, dengue, avian flu, etc. There is a stark truth that all the benefits obtained from APEC's activities of trade and investment liberalization and facilitation as well as economic and technical cooperation would be rendered meaningless if the life of our people, both as businessmen and consumers, could not be protected. That is why the prevention and fight against avian influenza pandemic and other transmitted diseases such as SARS, HIV/AIDS have always been a high priority on the human security agenda of APEC, which is basically a regional framework for economic cooperation.
In fact, APEC's efforts in dealing with emerging infectious diseases started many years ago. In 2000, APEC Leaders stated their strong commitment to eliminate HIV/AIDS. In 2001, the APEC Strategy for Combating Infectious Diseases was endorsed. The outbreak of SARS in 2003 strengthened APEC's determination towards regional cooperation to deal with emerging pandemic diseases. The APEC Health Ministerial Meeting was convened for the first time in 2003 that led to the establishment of the APEC Health Task Force in 2004 as an important mechanism for combating infectious diseases in the region.
In 2004 and 2005, avian influenza became the main focus of the APEC health agenda as it broke out in many areas of the Asia-Pacific. APEC economies held a number of activities where they endorsed important initiatives and recommendations, and implemented various collective and practical measures to combat avian influenza. At the "APEC Symposium on Response to Outbreaks of Avian Influenza and Preparedness for a Human Health Emergency" held in San Francisco in July 2005, APEC sought to minimize threats to animal and human health. The symposium discussed the measures to deal with the potential transmission from animal to human, the economic consequences of avian and other influenza pandemics, the ways to build the capacity of governments in the region to mobilize the resources to control avian influenza and to respond to any related human health emergency. In Brisbane, Australia, in October 2005, the "APEC Meeting on Avian and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response" brought together principal disaster coordinators from the APEC region with a view to strengthening channels of communication and coordination for dealing with the potential of an avian influenza pandemic. The meeting covered issues such as ensuring that all economies in the Asia-Pacific have effective domestic preparedness and response plans in place and to ensure that any gaps in preparedness are addressed before a pandemic occurs.
APEC's fight against avian and influenza pandemic received a strong impetus from the APEC Leaders and Ministers meeting in Busan, Korea, in November 2005. Leaders endorsed the "APEC Initiative on Preparing for and Mitigating an Influenza Pandemic," which committed APEC Member Economies to effective surveillance, transparency and openness in dealing with potential outbreaks. The initiative also called for closer domestic, regional and international coordination and collaboration to deal with the threat.
The year 2006 has been unfurled with further activities in this area. At the "APEC Symposium on Emerging Infectious Diseases" held in Beijing, China, in April 2006, APEC economies signed off the "Beijing Consensus" in which they agreed to a series of measures that have important implications for the region. These include commitments to enhancing bio-safety standards at commercial farms and markets, improving veterinary capacity to detect and report infectious disease outbreaks, and to strengthen animal health capacity to respond to outbreaks. In addition to this APEC symposium, a number of APEC economies also took part in the "International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza" held in Beijing in February 2006, which succeeded in securing pledges of US$1.9 billion for the common fight against avian and human pandemic influenza.
Challenges ahead
APEC has done a lot in preventing, containing and combating the avian influenza and other pandemics such as SARS and HIV/AIDS. However, in view of the increasingly wide spread of the avian and influenza pandemics, their potential detrimental impact on human health and the business environment in the Asia-Pacific region and the world over, the operations and measures implemented so far by APEC and international community seem to be not enough. The successful fight against avian and influenza pandemics requires the further efforts and actions to proactively and effectively implement the "APEC Initiative on Preparing for and Mitigating an Influenza Pandemic" endorsed by the APEC Leaders in 2005 and recommendations made by the various APEC meetings, symposiums, workshops on avian and influenza pandemics. The challenges to the fight against avian and influenza pandemics may come from all the three arenas: domestic, regional and global as the threat from the pandemic has now already assumed an international scope and character.
  • In the domestic arena: There may be a need to enforce the preventing, containing and combating avian and influenza pandemics through development, approval and implementation of multi-sectoral, domestic influenza pandemic preparedness plans consistent with WHO recommendations. This may include providing timely reports of suspected and confirmed animal and human cases of avian influenza; strengthening disease surveillance, particularly by enhancing the capacity to rapidly identify cases and clusters in rural and remote areas; responding rapidly to outbreaks in animals and humans; basing trade and travel restrictions on the science-based recommendations of relevant international organizations; supporting efforts to advance research on avian influenza viruses, vaccine and antiviral development and production; developing practical and science-based bio-security guidelines for the poultry sector and veterinary policy guidelines on animal husbandry; providing adequate compensation for poultry farmers and reforming the poultry production systems according the international guidelines (especially on hygiene and prevention of pandemic outbreaks).
  • In the regional arena: There may be a need to strengthen cooperation among APEC economies through sharing, in a timely and transparent manner, of epidemiological data, laboratory samples and viral isolates so that the group can prepare and respond as quickly as possible should an pandemic outbreak occurs; enhancing disease awareness, early detection and notification; working towards testing the plans to assess the effectiveness of regional communication networks on avian and pandemic influenza outbreaks; establishing the general protocols and systems to help APEC member economies keep functioning in the event of a pandemic (this may not only involve international trade and transport sectors but also essential services within economies); and strengthening the role of the APEC Health Task Force in addressing emerging infectious diseases, including early warning, preventing, detecting and combating avian and influenza pandemics. 
  • In the global arena: There may also be a need to strengthen global cooperation and coordination with all countries, international community and institutions such as special (health) and donor organizations. This may include the surveillance and monitoring of the diseases in line with international rules; the development of mechanisms to increase production capacity and enhance the pharmaceutical delivery so that there can be favorable and equitable access to vaccines and anti-virals worldwide; the early implementation from 2007 of the revised International Health Regulations to report the infectious diseases such as avian flu and other public health emergencies of international concern in addition to the previous list of the 3 infectious diseases namely cholera, plague and yellow fever required to report to international health organizations; mobilizing and effective utilization of material and financial resources to combat avian and influenza pandemics.
The Da Nang Ministerial Meeting - a timely response
The Da Nang Ministerial Meeting on Avian and Influenza Pandemics is the second ministerial level meeting addressing human security issue after the first Health Ministers' Meeting for SARS held in 2003. As seen from its agenda, this Ministerial Meeting will be devoted to review and discussion on the most important issues such as the social and economic impact of the avian and influenza pandemics, strengthening of the regional and international cooperation including public-private collaboration in the prevention and mitigation of its threats. In particular, the Meeting will focus on discussion and adoption of an Action Plan on the prevention and response to avian and influenza pandemics. In view of the serious situation evolving around avian and influenza pandemics, the potential threats to human life and economic development as well as the huge amount of work to be done in dealing with this situation, the Da Nang Ministerial Meeting hosted by Viet Nam is highly appropriate, timely and significant.
We deeply appreciate the fact that despite extremely busy schedules, ministers could spare their valuable time to attend this meeting. We believe that the Ministerial Meeting will have fruitful deliberations on various important issues on its agenda and will come out with clear directions for strengthening regional cooperation in the fight against avian and influenza pandemics. This demonstrates the high level of commitment and determination of APEC economies in dealing with infectious diseases and pandemics in order to ensure the healthy living and business environment that is very important to economic growth and development in our region. This also will contribute significantly to the further enhancement of the spirit of community among APEC economies.
With this in mind, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Vietnamese Host for inviting me to attend this Ministerial Meeting. May I wish the honourable ministers great success in the Meeting so as to ensure the safety, good health and economic vitality of our region.
Thank you.