Civil G8 2006

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A. Yakovenko. Combating the bird flu epidemic

Interview with A. V. Yakovenko, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, on issues of combating the bird flu epidemic, published in (sentence incomplete)

Question: At the recent international conference in Peking, a resolution was adopted to allocate just over a billion dollars to combat this disease. Was the conference in Peking just another meeting of experts to once more discuss hypothetical scenarios for proliferation of bird flu, or were definite measures discussed for combating this disease, which has already killed dozens of people?

A. V. Yakovenko: Moscow devoted particular attention to this conference, and not only because it was held in Peking, the capital of our strategic partner state. The Peking conference was an important element of the efforts of the global community to ensure readiness for a potential pandemic, which is a real danger should the virus (H5N1) begin to be passed from human to human.

The purpose of the conference was to evaluate global readiness for such a situation. I can say that the conference was entirely successful in fulfilling this task. It is obvious that many countries where there is a high degree of risk of a flu epidemic among birds (particularly in Asia and Africa) are not ready to combat the virus. Clearly, taking comprehensive measures is beyond the means of most developing countries. It is entirely logical that they cannot get by without external aid from the global community.

According to the estimates of various international organisations, demand for the resources required for taking measures along the lines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), FAO, and the World Organisation for Animal Health will total over USD 1.2 billion in the next 3 years. And that figure excludes funds for scientific research on updating and producing vaccines, as well as purchases of flu drugs.

I can say that the Peking conference was, overall, able to justify waiting for piecemeal mobilisation of these funds. Donor countries, international organisations and international finance institutions, by clubbing together, were able to collect around a billion dollars.

Facilitated access to targeted loans was provided by the World Bank (USD 500 million) and ADB (400 million dollars), which will help many countries to receive urgent resources for combating the flu pandemic. As is well known, Russia is not standing aside from the donation drive either, and it intends to make its own material contribution to the global support effort, which we stated in Peking.

Moscow also supports the conference's adoption of the Peking Declaration. This document clearly outlines the key tasks of the global community in combating flu among birds and the flu pandemic. It is just as relevant to Russia as it is to other countries.

Large-scale bird vaccinations are required, as well as heightened security measures for contact with bird livestock and meat, and strengthening of public health authorities in order to effectively diagnose the virus in humans.

Russia must continue to play a serious role in scientific research into bird flu viruses and work on creation of new flu vaccines for the population, as well as taking measures to provide the population with required flu drugs in the event that, God forbid, a bird flu pandemic arises.

To summarise, I believe that a critical role of the Peking conference was to send an important signal to those responsible for the fate of their countries and the world as a whole: No state or continent is safe from a bird flu pandemic. And while a pandemic is by no means inevitable, the timing and scale of its onset are unpredictable. Therefore we must act now, swiftly and collectively, and not scrimping on required expenses. Otherwise the damage caused by such a catastrophe will be much worse.

Question: What sort of definite Russian contribution to the effort to combat bird flu are we talking about?

A. V. Yakovenko: A proposal to contribute a sum equivalent to USD 41.7 million between 2006 and 2009 for strengthening epidemiological services in Russia and the CIS, including virological laboratories, is currently being examined by the government. By helping ourselves in this way we will help our neighbours too, and by helping them we will be helping ourselves. Provision of services to our partners is proposed in the field of detection and diagnosis of bird flu, through application of Russia's science and research base, methods, experience and specialists. Other wider-ranging measures are also a possibility, depending on the development of the situation and the requirements of individual countries.

Allocation of USD 3 million as a contribution to the multilateral financing mechanism created by the World Bank is also being discussed. This mechanism is a special-purpose fund for grant assistance of countries finding themselves in extraordinary epidemiological situations in connection with bird flu proliferation.

A mechanism for managing operations using this fund has yet to be specified. Our intentions were announced in Peking by Gennady Onischenko, leader of the Russian delegation and Chief State Medical Officer.

Question: Is there already a definite plan for prevention of a bird flu pandemic?

A. V. Yakovenko: The WHO, FAO and OIE have all developed draft strategies within their fields. These are framework documents, which it is extremely important that countries take into account when developing and implementing their national strategies (over 120 countries have their own). Several days ago, a strategic approach was developed, within the UN framework, in order to ensure coordinated actions by all the institutions of this international organisation in providing assistance to countries suffering from the epidemic, and in also reducing the threat and mitigating the consequences of a flu pandemic.

The international dialogue on collaborative and coordinated actions to combat bird flu did not end in Peking it will be continued at meetings of various international organisations and at conferences.

Unofficial translation from Russian

Expert opinion

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