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Speed, transparency key in responding to avian influenza outbreak in Turkey says WHO Director-General

Erase the borders between human and animal health information sharing

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr LEE Jong-wook, is visiting Turkey for two days to encourage broad coordination across sectors and to review how lessons learnt from the Turkey avian influenza outbreak can be applied globally.

"Turkey moved quickly to control the outbreak in people as soon as it appeared," Dr Lee said to media in Ankara on Thursday. "Turkey reported cases quickly, worked fast on laboratory diagnosis, and informed the public about the risks. As a result, the outbreak in humans was limited. Important lessons must now be applied from the Turkish experience."

Dr Lee also stressed the importance of sharing animal and human health information early. "There must be no borders between information on animal and human health. Sectors must work together to a common purpose. Our response must be broad-ranging and international."

During the visit, Dr Lee is meeting with Professor Recep Akdag, Minister of Health and will visit the National Influenza Centre where all the preliminary laboratory tests were undertaken. At the peak of the outbreak and because of active surveillance which detected many suspected cases, the centre carried out between 70 to 100 tests a day to determine whether these were caused by H5.

Dr Lee is also visiting Baypazari, where many birds were culled. He will discuss avian influenza with agriculture officials and farmers, to stress that the response to H5N1 must include active surveillance in animals for rapid detection of cases, solid diagnosis, fair compensation of farmers who have to cull birds, and public information and education programmes.

To help respond to the outbreak in Turkey, WHO coordinated an international team of experts from the European Centre for Disease Control, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control in the United States and other partners from Israel, France and Sweden through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network along with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and Unicef. The team worked in two main locations: at the centre of the outbreak in Van, and in the capital Ankara to ensure liaison with the Turkish authorities and other United Nations organizations.

Dr Lee stressed the need to remain vigilant in Turkey and in neighbouring countries. "The movement of people and goods through these lands along the Silk Roads goes back centuries. Turkey is connected both to Europe and to Asia. Europe is at risk of infection. Surveillance is critical. "

WHO teams are now working with the governments of a further seven neighboring at-risk countries to assess the situation. A WHO team is also traveling to Iraq to investigate reports that a 15-year old girl in an area neighboring Turkey may have died from H5N1.

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Fadéla Chaib
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