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Address to APEC meeting on Avian Pandemic Preparedness and Response, Brisbane.



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Speech by

The Hon Alexander Downer MP

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Address to APEC Meeting on Avian and Pandemic

Preparedness and Response

Brisbane, 31 October 2005

Under Embargo Until 9pm ESDT (Check Against Delivery)

Thank you Mr Chester (TBC)

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to have the

opportunity to address you this evening here in Brisbane.

It is also very pleasing to see such a high-level gathering of officials and observers

from economies in the Asia-Pacific region and from international organisations who

have come here for this two day meeting on Avian Influenza Preparedness and

Response.

I understand that this is the first time that the principal disaster coordinators from

APEC economies have come together in one place.

The Threat

The reason we are gathering here is because the world faces a risk of an influenza

pandemic.

The threat of Avian Influenza is not new, and the threat of a pandemic is not new.

However, the risk has been heightened most recently because of the re-emergence of a

particularly aggressive strain of Avian Influenza, the H5N1 strain, which was first

identified in Hong Kong in 1997.

In the 1997 outbreak, it infected 18 people and caused 6 deaths.

The H5N1 strain did not infect humans again until early 2003.

Since 2003 Avian Influenza has spread further and has infected more than 120 people

and caused more than 60 deaths.

It has also proven to be very difficult to control amongst poultry.

Millions of birds have been destroyed, at great cost to countries and farmers.

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Thankfully, to this day there are no reported cases of the Avian Influenza virus being

spread efficiently between humans.

But we do know that if an outbreak in humans does occur, the potential costs - in

human and economic terms - would be significant.

How large are these costs depends on how quickly and effectively we can respond to

an outbreak.

It is important that reports of any outbreaks in birds or first signs of human-to-human

transmission are passed on quickly.

This provides the greatest chance of effectively containing and eradicating the

outbreak and thereby substantially reducing its impact.

But if reporting is slow, if the response is ineffective, then history suggests that an

outbreak could quickly become an epidemic…

… and an epidemic could quickly become a pandemic.

In this case, the local and global costs could be huge.

So the message here is that we need to be prepared.

At the same time, however, it is critically important that we keep the risk of a

pandemic in perspective.

The possibility of efficient human-to-human transmission, while real, is not inevitable.

This was emphasised just two weeks ago week when a World Health Organisation

spokeswoman said that Avian Influenza is “still not something that we see as a huge

risk to the human population.”

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Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has estimated that the chance of the H5N1 virus

becoming a pandemic is one in ten in any one year.

So while we must take Avian Influenza preparedness incredibly seriously, we should

not be overly paranoid of a pandemic occurring.

Addressing the Threat

How then do we work together to tackle this threat?

Some questions we need to ask are:

Are we ready for a pandemic and if not, what can we do to ensure we are?

Do we each have effective domestic preparedness and response plans that are tailored

to the individual needs of each economy?

Do we have clear and coordinated systems in place to help us to implement our plans

in the event of an outbreak?

And lastly, where are the gaps in preparedness and what can we do individually and

collectively to address these gaps?

An Influenza Pandemic will be a global problem with global costs.

It knows no borders.

The outbreak of SARS in 2002/2003 demonstrated how quickly and easily viruses are

able to travel in today’s inter-connected world.

In a matter of weeks, SARS had spread from China to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada,

Singapore and Vietnam.

We must therefore work co-operatively in dealing with the risks from Avian Influenza.

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A purely domestic response will be insufficient.

We must work together:

….to strengthen surveillance…

….to build regional capacity

….and to ensure that we can deal with an outbreak at its source - before it becomes a

global pandemic.

The APEC economies, which you represent, cover the geographical area of greatest

risk of an avian flu outbreak.

The work which we have already collectively done as APEC economies is impressive.

As far back as 1996, APEC established an Emerging Infectious Diseases Network.

In 2001 APEC leaders endorsed an APEC Infectious Diseases Strategy.

The APEC Survey on Pandemic Response and Preparedness was agreed in 2004 and

should be completed this year.

This two day meeting of over 100 senior officials from the APEC economies, non-APEC ASEAN economies, the Pacific Islands Forum and international organisations

will continue this vital work and elevate its priority.

The regional stocktake on pandemic preparedness, which was initiated in APEC in

late 2004, will be a valuable contribution to gauging progress, identifying gaps in

capacity and determining how they can be addressed.

You will also be helping to develop a network of disaster management co-ordinators

across the region.

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This will be a vital foundation for effective communication in an emergency situation

to contain an outbreak and minimise potential disruption and costs to business.

International organisations are here, in part, to ensure that APEC is not unnecessarily

duplicating work being undertaken in these fora.

The outcomes of this meeting here will, of course, inform discussions among APEC

Leaders and Ministers at their meeting in Busan in mid-November.

The threat from Avian Influenza will be a key priority at this meeting.

APEC is particularly well suited for dealing with Avian Influenza preparedness.

As I have mentioned, its member economies cover the regions most at risk.

It also has an informal and consensus based approach.

It is designed to encourage the sharing of information.

And, as demonstrated by its work to date, it is able to respond quickly to emerging

regional problems.

Importantly, APEC Ministers and Leaders can provide the sort of political

commitment required to galvanise action across the region.

APEC has a strong tradition of sharing expertise and resources and this meeting is

another example of this.

Australia’s Role

Australia is pleased to take a lead role in co-ordinating this meeting and contributing

to regional preparedness.

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Australia wants to assist our regional neighbours prepare for a potential outbreak

because we are well aware that this is a threat that impacts on the broader region.

Regionally, we have committed $41 million since 2003 to initiatives to improve

detection and response capabilities.

I am pleased to see representatives of the Pacific Islands Forum, Cambodia, Laos and

Burma attending this meeting.

In the Pacific, the Prime Minister has just announced an $8 million project to for

pandemic preparedness.

We have provided a package of assistance to Indonesia worth $15.5 million.

The package includes 50,000 courses of Tamiflu…

… along with equipment and training to help with detection, containment, public

awareness and information sharing.

In recent days we have committed $3 million to Vietnam to assist in their efforts to

eradicate avian influenza outbreaks in their economy.

Domestically, the Government has allocated $180 million to prevention and

preparedness in Australia.

Australia is also a core member of the US-initiated International Partnership on Avian

and Pandemic Influenza, which is working globally to improve preparedness.

Conclusion

At the APEC Ministerial Meeting, in less than two weeks, I will be encouraging my

regional counterparts to think creatively about how we can meet this challenge

together.

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I’m sure I can speak for all APEC Ministers and Leaders when I say, we want to hear

about the gaps in preparedness and how to fill them.

We look to you, our regional experts, to inform our discussions and provide a sound

basis for APEC Leaders to make decisions in November that will ensure the safety of

the people of our region.

As a region, our prosperity is dependent on us being fully prepared to face together

any emergency or disaster that threatens our community.

I encourage you to use this meeting to provide practical and realistic guidance to

APEC Leaders and Ministers.