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European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
International Ministerial Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic
Never before has an animal disease posed a global threat of such a dimension. Avian Influenza has already caused tremendous damage in Asia and has spread in an unprecedented way to other parts of the world following major flyways of migratory birds and the routes of globalization.
Never since 1968 has a human influenza pandemic been so close. No one can predict when the next pandemic will occur, but everybody agrees that the risk has increased.
Never before has humankind had a window of opportunity to prepare for the event of a pandemic before it actually happens. In Geneva, the technical agencies WHO, FAO, OIE as well as the World Bank have shown us what needs to be done: addressing the animal disease at source, raise pandemic preparedness, and countries to develop integrated response strategies. It is high time to act, because “prevention is better than cure”.
Never before has the international community come together to co-ordinate efforts and raise funds to address a global health crisis before it actually occurs. I am glad that we are assembled here today, in Beijing, to discuss together ways and means to address this new challenge for humanity. I am particularly thankful to Prime Minister Wen Jiabao for having called for this important pledging conference on avian and pandemic influenza in cooperation with the World Bank and the European Commission.
As the Chinese proverb says, “a single tree makes no forest, one string makes no music”. In addressing openly this global challenge, China is displaying political leadership and commitment as well as contributing towards the mobilisation of the international community calling for a collaborative effort and international solidarity.
I have heard the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in his call for global coordination and wish to thank the United Nations for their efforts in pulling together the work done by WHO, FAO and OIE in one single framework, so essential for shaping one global response strategy.
The avian influenza threat is not going to go away soon. We might have to engage in a long battle in which each of us will have to remain vigilant and mobilise important resources and energies at home. In the medium and longer term, this crisis offers a window of opportunity that we must not miss: addressing the root causes of animal diseases through sector reforms in animal husbandry and improving the way humans and animals cohabit and interact.
The H5N1 virus did not spare Europe and has already spread into Romania, a country which will join the EU in the near future, as well as Croatia and Turkey, which are EU candidate countries. The spread of avian influenza in Turkey as well as the accelerated appearance of human cases confirms the urgency to take collective action.
Every day our farmers and our veterinarians are in the front line engaged in routine surveillance, detection, culling operations when necessary, communicating results through a well-functioning network of the EU Chief Veterinary Officers, the Commission, FAO and OIE.
In parallel, our doctors and scientists are busy in their laboratories tracking the virus, searching for new vaccines and antiviral drugs. While recognising that some are better prepared and equipped to face the challenge of bird flu and its socio-economic dramatic consequences, the European Union stands ready to share its expertise, technology and know-how.
Addressing avian influenza at source and helping partner countries, particularly the ones most in need, to cope with the mounting threat is therefore a strategic priority for the European Union.
We have come here today to tell our partner countries that we are ready for engaging ourselves into a long term international partnership with the aim of assisting with the implementation of the national avian and pandemic influenza response plans.
We reviewed yesterday the existing needs and plans. We have also measured the national technical and financial capacity to respond to the challenge and estimated the short-to-long term financing gaps. But above all, national ownership of the response plans is fundamental. In this sense, I would like to congratulate countries that have already developed national strategies.
In concluding my address, allow me to formulate three strategic considerations:
To engage in this global fight against the avian and human influenza, the preparation of national action plans and the mobilisation of funding are two important pre-requisites.
To fight the battle, we know that strong determination, leadership and national commitment will ultimately permit the control and the elimination of this threat.
But to win this long battle, allow me to stress that only good governance and rigorous accountability in the way limited technical and financial resources are used will be the determining factor of success. The European Commission together with the EU Member States stand ready to play an active role at your side.
Thank you for your attention.