WHO urges massive increase in bird-flu vaccine production

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Right. Let's see the death rate from bird-flu disease:

Since it re-emerged in 2003, H5N1 bird flu has infected 256 people, killing 151, mainly in southeast Asia. Although it has been difficult for humans to catch, health authorities fear it could evolve into a form more easily passed between people and trigger a pandemic.

Do you know that only in South Africa there are more people dying from AIDS DAILY? Shouldn't there be more emphasis in this direction?

Anyways, the article is below. Read the "breaking news from WHO", if you feel like.

By Richard Waddington, Reuters, 23 Oct 2006

GENEVA, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday called for a multi-billion-dollar drive to make more pandemic flu vaccines, saying bird flu still threatened a global pandemic.

Outlining a plan to protect the world's 6.7 billion people against bird flu, or other flu viruses with pandemic potential, the U.N. health agency said manufacturing capacity would shield only a percentage of the population.

"We are presently several billion doses short of the amount of pandemic influenza vaccine we would need," said Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the WHO's initiative for vaccine research.

Since it re-emerged in 2003, H5N1 bird flu has infected 256 people, killing 151, mainly in southeast Asia. Although it has been difficult for humans to catch, health authorities fear it could evolve into a form more easily passed between people and trigger a pandemic.

"Our assessment continues to be the same. The risk of a pandemic has not gone down," David Heymann, the WHO's acting assistant director-general for communicable diseases, told a news conference to launch the plan.

Pharmaceutical companies have announced promising animal trials for a possible H5N1 vaccine, but the WHO says an effective serum is probably still a year away.

Global output of seasonal flu vaccination -- which could be switched to anti-pandemic production if needed -- stands at 350 million doses, with existing spare capacity for around a further 150 million if needed, the WHO said.

Current expansion plans could see this figure rise to some 780 million doses by 2009, but this was still far short of what might be required in the event of a global epidemic of a killer flu strain.

The plan, drawn up in consultation with 120 experts, urged governments to increase vaccination campaigns against normal seasonal flu in order to give industry an economic incentive to boost their production capacity.

But this would not be enough. States must also encourage the development of capacity specifically for producing pandemic vaccines, even if this meant companies would have to be paid for keeping some capacity idle when such vaccines were not needed.

The third strand of the strategy would see stepped up research into more potent vaccines. These could cut the number of preventive doses needed to one from the two currently forecast, the WHO said.

The agency estimated the cost of the development plan at $3 billion to $10 billion over the next decade.

But besides bringing global protection against pandemic flu viruses, the campaign would help cut the toll from seasonal flu which kills up to 500,000 people worldwide every year.

"Immunisation is a critical control strategy for limiting the impact of an influenza pandemic. Immediate, collaborative action to increase vaccine supply could have a massive payoff," Heymann said.

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