Australia urged calm Monday over fears about the spread of bird flu as it hosted disaster coordinators from Pacific Rim nations to hammer out ways to stop emerging diseases from skipping across the region's borders. "There is no need to panic at this stage and we shouldn't overstate the risk," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters before addressing the officials, who represent the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Vietnam and Cambodia, both hit with human bird flu deaths, appealed for financial and technical help from their neighbors, saying they simply don't have the resources to fight the disease alone.
Vietnam's Vice Minister of Agriculture Bui Ba Bong said the communist country needs US$50 million (Ђ41 million) and help building up its stockpile of bird flu drugs as it struggles to keep a lid on the H5N1 bird flu virus that has jumped from poultry to people, killing more than 40 humans in Vietnam since late 2003.
"Vietnam wants to use this meeting as an opportunity to ask member countries for cooperation and support," Bong said.
Vietnam has enough antiviral drugs to treat 60,000 people, but Bong said the country of 8.2 million needs far more. Officials said last week they want enough to treat 30 percent of the population.
Impoverished Cambodia, which has logged four human deaths, also needs help from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization and richer countries "to help us in terms of financial resource and technical assistance," said Prak Thaveak Amida, deputy director general of Cambodia's ministry of agriculture.
"We cannot work on our own; we need to have international collaboration," he said.
Disaster and pandemic coordinators from APEC countries, along with health, animal and quarantine officials, met behind closed doors to formulate a plan on the best ways to deal with various threat levels posed by diseases like bird flu, the AP reports.
Doug Steadman, of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said experts were exchanging their experiences of dealing with outbreaks.
Canada dealt with SARS in 2003 and had a bird flu outbreak in 2004, although it was not the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease.