Media Center

Press Release


  March 31, 2006

The potential threat of avian flu, a critical issue for the Americas, could have devastating implications for trade, tourism, economic stability, food security and health in the countries, experts warned today at a briefing focused on stopping avian flu at its source. They called for unified political commitment and concerted, strategic cooperation, coupled with immediate and effective action at country and regional levels.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) jointly organized the event held at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters, with participants from a broad array of international organizations, U.S. government institutions, ambassadors and the private sector, among others.

In opening remarks, OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin stressed that because of the cross-border implications of any national threat, the OAS is encouraging “the strengthening of country and regional capacity in surveillance, laboratory diagnosis and alert and response systems.” Ramdin identified the critical role of communication to such an undertaking, in raising public awareness and discussion towards creating a shared agenda. He noted the heightened vulnerability of the region stemming from international travel and global trade.

IICA Director General Chelston Brathwaite emphasized science-based sanitary measures as powerful tools whereby countries can respond to threats to human and animal health and at the same time maintain market access and consumer confidence. He described the conference as not simply a briefing but more of a call to action, stressing the common responsibility of “building capacity now to reduce and hopefully prevent, or at the very least, contain,” future animal, agricultural and health emergencies in the Americas.

PAHO’s Assistant Director, Carissa Etienne, accentuated the potentially “substantial economic and health impact” of the arrival of the deadly H5N1 virus in this hemisphere, although to date there is no evidence of bird flu in the Americas. She did note, however, the potentially significant threat to food security, given that poultry is a major source of protein in the region. PAHO food safety experts have concluded that poultry meat that is properly handled and cooked is safe, even in countries where the virus has been detected.

IICA and the OAS earlier this week signed a general cooperation agreement reaffirming their mutual commitment to working together on a number of important hemispheric initiatives.

Reference: E-082/06