September 20, 2006 at 15:28 PM EDT
Statement by Mike Leavitt Secretary of Health and Human Services On the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, United Nations General Assembly

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- The following is a statement by Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services:

One year ago President Bush announced the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, an effort to bring together key nations and international organizations to improve the world's readiness for a possible human influenza pandemic.

Since that announcement, the global effort to prepare for and respond to a potential human influenza pandemic has gained momentum and strength. The International Partnership has been an important element in support of these global efforts to improve international disease surveillance, transparency in the reporting of cases, the timeliness of such reporting, and the response capabilities of affected nations.

In the past year, the H5N1 strain of avian flu has spread to more than 40 additional countries and has led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of additional birds, which has heightened concern about the potential for a human flu pandemic. Furthermore, the number of avian flu cases in humans has more than doubled to more than 240 cases in 10 countries. Tragically, more than half of those persons infected have died. This persistence of the avian flu virus to sustain itself and spread reminds us of the urgency to redouble our efforts to be ready should the avian flu virus evolve into a human pandemic.

In the United States, we have been making significant investments in vaccines, antivirals, and research. This research is likely to benefit not only citizens of the United States, but also citizens of the world.

Earlier this year, we recently awarded $1.0 billion in contracts to develop cell-based vaccines against both seasonal and pandemic influenza with the goal of having sufficient domestic vaccine production capacity to vaccinate all Americans within 6 months of the declaration of a pandemic. In addition, we are working on dose-sparing measures to enable us to produce more treatment courses for more people and are developing a library of live virus vaccine candidates against all known influenza strains with pandemic potential. In addition, we have developed rapid diagnostic testing for H5 strains that shorten testing time. We are also looking at mitigation strategies should a pandemic break out.

But responding to a pandemic will demand the cooperation of the world community. No nation can go it alone. If a country is to protect its own people, it must work together with other nations to protect the people of the world.

I believe there are four principles of preparedness, and I have spoken of them before: transparency, rapid reporting, sharing of data, and scientific cooperation. The United States will do its part to advance those principles.

We are funding the Specimen Transport Fund, managed by the Secretariat of the World Health Organization (WHO). It is a key innovation in getting samples from affected countries in a timely and secure fashion. We also support early, voluntary compliance with the revised International Health Regulations. We also have made sizeable investments in creating a worldwide network of influenza surveillance, through bilateral assistance, work with the WHO Secretariat and its Regional Offices, and through partnerships with a number of international labs. Furthermore, in response to President Bush's commitment to forward-positioning a portion of U.S. antiviral stocks for use in a human pandemic containment effort, we have deployed treatment courses of Tamiflu to a secure location in Asia.

Today, I am pleased to renew our commitment to the International Partnership. It is our collective global resources and cooperation that will make our pandemic preparedness efforts a success and that will position us as a global community to better prepared tomorrow than we are today.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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