China is Committed to the Fight Against H5N1 Avian Influenza, But Challenges Remain

Opening Remarks by Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director

For the Western Pacific Region

News Conference on China's Response to Avian Influenza:

Beijing, 23 December 2005

Dec 23, 2005, 00:00 ET from World Health Organization

    BEIJING, Dec. 23 /Xinhua-PRNewswire/ --
     (Logo: )
     Good afternoon.  Thank you for being here.
     I have visited China many times in my official capacity.  And I can truly
 say that this week's visit, with its focus on avian influenza, has been one of
 the most productive of all.
     I have met with officials at the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and
 Foreign Affairs.  I have visited the National Influenza Centre in Beijing,
 whose laboratories have helped confirm the six human cases listed so far on
 the mainland.  I have visited Hunan Province, where China experienced its
 first laboratory-confirmed human case.   And I have visited the very community
 where that nine-year-old boy lives.  I have seen with my own eyes that China
 at all levels is truly committed to the fight against H5N1 avian influenza.  I
 would like to personally congratulate China and its people for this.
     For example, on the animal front, outbreaks in poultry -- once they are
 identified -- are swiftly and aggressively contained.  China has carried out
 expansive and ambitious vaccination campaigns in poultry.  On the human front,
 China has done a good job in identifying human cases in recent months, and in
 conducting the necessary laboratory tests for confirmation.  Collaboration
 between the Chinese Ministry of Health and WHO is very strong in further
 enhancing China's capacity to battle avian influenza.
     However, there are also significant challenges.  Not surprisingly, the
 strongest challenges are found where animal and human surveillance systems are
 at their weakest.  The ability to spot animal outbreaks and possible human
 cases at the grassroots level is a major challenge.  Of the six confirmed
 human cases so far, five were not forewarned by reports of poultry outbreaks
 in the local community.
     There is therefore a need for a concerted and greater focus at the
 grassroots level -- so that capacity and human resources at the community
 level will be strengthened, particularly in terms of awareness and
     After SARS, China made major improvements in public health from the
 national to the provincial through the county levels.  Avian influenza,
 however, shows us that we need to penetrate even deeper -- all the way through
 the grassroots level.  The front lines of the battle against avian influenza
 are at the grassroots level.  It is here that some 70 percent of China's
 estimated 14 billion poultry are spread across backyard farms.  It is here
 that the six confirmed human cases have come from.  Now all of this poses a
 huge, huge challenge to China's fight against avian influenza.  The outcome of
 this battle in China has ramifications not only for the region, but also for
 the entire world.  China is truly key to the global war against H5N1.
     The strongest weapons in this war are collaboration, cooperation and the
 sharing of information.  Accurate and complete reporting about outbreaks in
 animals and about human cases is vital.  The sharing of information must be
 timely, regular and global.
     China reported its first laboratory-confirmed case just last month.  But
 already, the Ministry of Health has listed virus sequences from human cases in
 international databases for scientists the world over to access.  During my
 visit the Ministry of Health has agreed to share the virus isolates from two
 of the human cases with the WHO International Collaborating Network.  A draft
 agreement was given to me at the National Influenza Centre in Beijing.  We
 commend the Ministry of Health for this, and hope this process will become
 routine -- something that occurs regularly and consistently.
     However, human H5N1 viruses are only part of the story.  To fully
 understand how this virus is evolving, we need viruses from outbreaks in
 animals.  Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture shared five virus isolates.
 This year, it has shared virus sequence information from the Qinghai wild bird
     However, from the more than 30 reported outbreaks in animals in 2005, no
 viruses have been made available so far.  Ministry of Agriculture officials
 have told me they understand the importance of sharing viruses.  But time is
 of the essence.
     I will end these remarks on a personal note.  Yesterday, in Hunan, I met
 China's first confirmed human case -- the nine-year-old boy whose picture all
 of you must be familiar with, the boy who appeared on national television
 earlier this week.  The joy his parents feel at his wonderful recovery is
 mixed with the sorrow over losing their daughter -- the boy's sister -- who
 probably died of avian influenza, but whose case could not be confirmed.  This
 family's story symbolizes the difficulty China faces in battling H5N1.  But it
 also shows how success can be achieved, if the necessary steps are taken.
     China is truly committed to winning the battle against avian influenza.
 Victory in this battle will benefit both China and the world.
     Thank you.
     For further information, please contact:
      Mr Roy Wadia
      Communications Officer
      WHO China
      Tel:    +86-10-6532-7189 x681
      Mobile: +86-136-1117-4072

SOURCE World Health Organization