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Avian Flu in Asia

An Agriculture Ministry worker sprays disinfectant at cages at a bird farm in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Sept. 26, 2005. (quiplash/flickr)

An Agriculture Ministry worker sprays disinfectant at cages at a bird farm in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Sept. 26, 2005. (quiplash/flickr)

Elisabeth Rosenthal: Can I ask you one quick question? I realize you are talking for yourself and not the Naval War College or the U.S. government. Will the U.S. Government be as willing to invest in paying for chickens in Indonesia as it is for purchasing Tamiflu or vaccines for Americans here on Park Avenue?

Andrew Erickson: Well, I am not involved in the formulation of the policies so I really can't speak.

Elisabeth Rosenthal: Is it a harder sell?

Andrew Erickson: I think we still have a mission to educate Americans, American voters, and people around the world about this threat. But when I see funding already coming forth and policies already being laid down and exercises being engaged in and centers being set up, I see enough proactively here to convince me that positive things are happening. We can't let up; we have to only double the pace. I think things are looking good in that respect.

Elisabeth Rosenthal: Dr. Nabarro, did you have something to say?

David Nabarro: I do think that the role played by the U.S. government in Indonesia and particularly in relation to trying to help the Indonesian authorities, particularly at the local government level, to get on top of bird flu is pretty remarkable. There have been strong involvements of USAID, a much loved organization I understand in the U.S. administration. Also, Tuffs University working with them and the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Lynn Pasco, have been very focused on working with Indonesian camp parts in a thing call Comnass, which is the national influenza commission. It is something which every American citizen ought to be amazingly proud because it is being consistent, good, and it looks like being long term. I actually wish that every other international donor could have shown that kind of leadership. It is a really good model.

Elisabeth Rosenthal: Does anyone in the audience have questions they would like to ask? Please identify yourself before you speak.

Question: My name is Ralim Cambel with the National Bureau of Asian Research, the Pacific Health Summit. I wanted to ask real quickly, someone alluded to the internet surge capacity, and I wanted to ask about unintended consequences of putting preparedness plans into place such as over use of the internet and different actions that are taken that might have consequences that might result in other problems.

Donald G Ainslie:
I think that when we are doing the planning, there are certain assumptions that we have to make. For example, the internet is something that we are relying on but we have to make the assumption that the internet might not be there because you can't segment the internet. You can't say that you want this much capacity and this person has that much capacity. There is no one out there directing traffic. I think from a business standpoint, you need processes in place. I don't know what they are, so that you can work without the internet. It is not the end all answer.

Question: I want to ask the panelist, to what extent do you seriously believe that the pandemic poses a real immediate threat to us because while it is true that I agree the pandemic is going to happen sooner or later, it seems that this itself is not scientifically informed because how it is going to be different from saying that we are all going to die sometime in the future. Secondly, while I agree that those impacts of the pandemic will be negative in terms of economies, society, and governance, so far all these predictions and estimates seem to be based on the 1918 Spanish Flu, which seems that it is rather exceptional in terms that it is one of the most lethal threats. It seems harder to make this exceptional case a standard scenario.

David Nabarro: I would like to start with a reminder to everybody that the estimates done by CDC [Center for Disease Control] colleague Lonny King suggest that 70 percent of the new infections that are going to effect human kind will come from the animal kingdom. HIV, the current pandemic we are living with, came from the animal kingdom. SARS, which we were worried about when it appeared, possibly being a pandemic disease, came from the animal kingdom. Yellow fever, Marburg, Ebola, all came from the animal kingdom. What we are actually primarily talking about is defending the human race against pathogens that come from animals. We have put a lot of effort, time, cash, and thinking into protecting ourselves against risks associated with violence—bombings, shootings, kidnappings, and the like. We have put a lot of time and energy into protecting ourselves against natural disasters like hurricanes and such. We put virtually no time or energy into protecting ourselves against diseases, particularly those that come from the animal kingdom, that can effect the human race, i.e. the pandemics. I would like to come back to Andrew Wang and say what we are simply talking about here is a part of human security that is going to be missing in international discourse and national planning for a very long time. We are simply trying to readdress the balance. Our particular focus is on Influenza because we have this H5N1 virus roaming around the world at the moment. If it does become sustained human to human transmissible virus—it is already mutating away—but if the mutation leads to sustained transmission, if that that virus maintains its current pathogenicity, we will have a very unpleasant situation. We will also be asking ourselves, why on earth didn't we do more to get ready?