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China promises speedy bird flu sample sharing

Published on 2 December, 2006, Last updated at 12:12 GMT


HONG KONG - China has promised the new head of the World Health Organisation that it will share bird flu samples more quickly, after worries Chinese secrecy was hampering understanding of the virus, Hong Kong papers said on Saturday.

Chinese bird flu expert Margaret Chan, who was elected in November as head of the WHO, has just finished a four-day visit to China where she met President Hu Jintao as well as Premier Wen Jiabao and Health Minister Gao Qiang.

"I can frankly tell you President Hu, Premier Wen and the Ministry of Health all understand the importance of making speedy announcements," the Standard quoted Chan as saying. "China has already put in a lot of resources in improving its notification system for communicable diseases," she added.

Chan has vowed to speak out if countries, including China, failed to strengthen surveillance against dangerous diseases, including bird flu, or proved reluctant to share the virus samples needed to help develop vaccines.

Experts fear the H5N1 bird flu virus could kill millions of people if it were to mutate into a version that could spread efficiently among humans. Last month, China agreed to share long-sought bird flu virus samples from 2004 and 2005 to support global efforts to prevent a flu pandemic.

The WHO has said its understanding had been hampered by China's refusal to share bird flu samples.

China recently rejected findings in a paper published by Hong Kong and U.S. scientists that they had detected a new strain of H5N1 virus in the southern Chinese province of Fujian last year.


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