Foreign ministers from five Southeast Asian countries attending a regional economic meeting in Bangkok have pledged to cooperate closely to control the spread of bird flu and develop a human vaccine against it, Thailand's representative said Wednesday.
Thailand is hosting the second Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, ACMECS, meeting, which is discussing issues such as trade and investment, contract farming projects, the reduction of regional economic disparities, and a possible single visa scheme to cover all their countries in order to promote tourism.
The recent re-emergence of bird flu, which first swept through the region in late 2003, causing upheavals to the poultry sector and several dozen human deaths, made discussion of the deadly virus a priority for the five participating countries, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
"We have emphasized the need to have close cooperation in the exchange of information in a transparent manner and research (on bird flu)," Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon told reporters after meeting with his counterparts.
So far, most human cases have been traced to direct contact with sick birds, but health authorities fear that the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmissible between humans, possibly causing a global pandemic. Many countries are looking into the prospects of producing vaccines against the disease.
"Vietnam has shown readiness to cooperate on (the development of) vaccine to protect humans from bird flu," said Kantathi. Vietnam and Thailand are by far the two biggest economies of the five-nation grouping and the only ones with the capacity to carry out such work.
U.S. President George W. Bush this week announced a battle plan against a possible flu pandemic, which includes a proposal to spend US$18 million (Ђ15 million) to manufacture and test a human vaccine in Vietnam, the AP reminds.
At least 62 people in Asia have been killed by the H5N1 bird flu virus since 2003, but most of the deaths have been linked to close contact with infected birds. Most of the victims have been in Vietnam.