Joint action against bird flu pandemic
By Azlan Othman

His Royal Highness Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, yesterday stressed on the importance of joint networking and firm understanding covering all government ministries and agencies in the country's national plan against influenza pandemic.

His Royal Highness, who is also the Chairman of the National Committee Against Pandemic Influenza, made a sabda during his visit to Tutong Hospital where he chaired the third national committee meeting against influenza pandemic.

HRH said that a clear and proper role could help over-come and contain possible bad consequences of pandemic influenza on social, economic and government machineries.

Among the agendas of the meeting were discussions on the update of avian influenza, infected cases of which until July 12 among humans worldwide stood at 229 while 131 others died after contracting the virus.

The rapid spread of bird flu to countries never infected before and the increasing number of people infected caused a global alarm. The death of seven people in the family of eight in Indonesia raised concerns of human-to-human transmission.

The meeting also noted the Ministry of Health's plan of action that covers table top exercise, review of the action plan following the visit by World Health Organisation (WHO), sharing of information and latest issues from Apec and Asean meetings attended by the Minister of Health and senior officials at the ministry.

To further consolidate the preparation in facing a possible outbreak of bird flu among birds, the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources has updated the existing action plan by taking into consideration the latest development of bird flu worldwide and preparations of the government ministries.

To ensure the effectiveness of such an action plan, a simulation exercise codenamed "Serama Operation 2" was conducted in April 2006 at a chicken farm in Tutong.

Monitoring and surveillance on birds are still continued, focusing on backyard farms, wild birds and commercial farms. To date, the nation is free from bird flu, especially the H5N1 virus.

In terms of laboratory diagnostic capability, the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources offers confirmatory tests. Besides serology monitoring through screening test using Rapid Tests Kits, a PCR machine has been put in place to confirm whether the infection is caused by H5N1.

The meeting also discussed the latest action plan of the government ministries against the pandemic influenza at the national level by the committee members comprising cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and senior officials.

HRH's visit was aimed at taking a closer look at preparations at Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Hospital in Tutong, which is assigned as the isolation hospital for influenza cases. The action plan on pandemic influenza of the Ministry of Health has identified Tutong Hospital as the treatment centre and for isolating influenza patients.

Prior to chairing the meeting, His Royal Highness witnessed a dry run procedure to handle a patient as part of the preparation. The Crown Prince also toured isolation wards and viewed an exhibition. - Borneo Bulletin (13th July 2006)