Wednesday, November 01, 2006
WHO (World Health Organization) criticizes China for not releasing bird flu data
The World Health Organization on Wednesday accused Chinese officials of not informing the global health community of the emergence of a new variant of the worrisome H5N1 avian flu virus, hoarding virus samples and for not doing enough to contain the spread of H5N1 in poultry.
WHO’s top representative, during an interview from Beijing, suggested the Ministry of Agriculture may be selectively reporting findings of H5N1 in poultry and only alerting the world when large outbreaks occur.
“I think the interpretation here with the Ministry of Agriculture is that they report major outbreaks. They might not report if they find here and there a virus,” Dr. Henk Bekedam said.
International regulations require that any finding of a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus in domestic poultry — and H5N1 is definitely one — must be reported to the World Organization for Animal Health.
The critical comments — from both Bekedam and Dr. Julie Hall, an infectious diseases expert in WHO’s China office — were triggered by the publication earlier this week of a scientific article outlining the emergence of a new variant of the H5N1 virus. The paper was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“It’s so sad that we haven’t got that information or those viruses from the Ministry of Agriculture and we have to rely on research groups in Hong Kong and the United States to provide that information,” Hall said.
She and Bekedam confirmed that virus samples the Ministry of Agriculture promised to share with the world last March and which China said were cleared for export in late September probably haven’t yet left the country.
“As far as we understand, as of two days ago, the viruses have not physically left China,” Bekedam said.
“It’s really beyond comprehension to us.”
The laboratories that conduct influenza testing and surveillance for the World Health Organization need sample viruses to track the characteristics of the virus and to ensure that prototype human vaccines are up to date. Changes in viral characteristics can render old vaccine strains ineffective, requiring newer versions to be made.
The Ministry of Agriculture hasn’t shared any H5N1 virus samples with the global community since June 2004, Hall said.