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Agreement To Speed Up Development of Bird flu vaccine

In a collective effort to combat the bird flu pandemic, international health ministers have struck an agreement to speed up the development and production of a pandemic bird flu vaccine.

Ministers from the US, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, // Mexico, Italy, representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU) health commissioners - all members of the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI) - met in Rome to discuss the global threat from a bird flu pandemic and agreed to share 'information and expertise' to fast-track development of a vaccine more quickly and production and will make sure supplies meet demand.

UK health minister Rosie Winterton, who attended the conference with the representatives of eight other countries, said: 'We recognized the importance of ensuring our populations and healthcare professionals have the high quality, consistent international information they need to manage the consequences of an outbreak of pandemic flu.

Her comments came a matter of days after China confirmed the country's first case of bird flu in a human, whipping up fresh fears of a global pandemic. As the case was confirmed, the Chinese government announced it was to vaccinate all of the country's 14 billion poultry to stem the spread of the disease.

Avian flu has affected the Southeast Asian nations although it is largely limited to poultry and wild-bird populations.

Experts fear that the H5N1 virus is on the verge of undergoing mutation, thus making it easier to spread from birds to humans.

In the event of this happening the impact worldwide would be tremendous, experts say. And in the absence of a vaccine or drug against the bird flu, the loss of life would be unprecedented.

The leaders have also agreed to work together to boost global capacity for pandemic flu vaccine.

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