Mar 17 - 23, 2008

LAHORE: International cooperation is indispensable to check spread of communicable diseases including bird flu, dengue fever around the globe. To create awareness of different diseases and allocate budgets and manpower in proportion with their magnitude is the dire need of the time. The bird flu, which is mainly found in the birds of Asian countries can be controlled by mass public awareness. At present, Pakistan is safe from this virus as far as humans are concerned but framing a comprehensive national policy is necessary to stop the virus in future.

These views were expressed by speakers at the first national seminar on bird flu held under the auspices of Pakistan Medical Society (PMS) in collaboration with the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) at Government Fatima Jinnah College for Women Choona Mandi Lahore.

The seminar was addressed by the US Consulate Principal Officer Bryan D. Hunt, MPA-elect Dr. Asad Ashraf, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Nawaz, Director Health Services Dr Ziaur Rehman, Pakistan Medical Society (PMS) Chairman Dr Masood Akhtar Sheikh, WHO Representative from Islamabad Dr A Majid, University Lab UVAS Prof Masood Rabbani, Dr Aftab Asif, Dr Khalid Mehmood and Fatima Jinnah Medical College Principal Ms Shama Salman Khaliq.

Bryan D Hunt said: "The threat of avian influenza and the international response to that threat offer us a vivid example of how nations and international organisations must work together in a coordinated, transparent, effective way for the good of all people in the world. No nation can conquer any disease alone. Only with a cooperative approach we can protect ourselves and our neighbors from avian influenza. We need to share information, pool our capabilities and present a united front to keep the disease from spreading."

He said the United States has been on the forefront of international public health efforts to fight avian influenza around the world, and here in Pakistan. "We want to help to ensure the safety of the food supply, promote healthy poultry flocks and protect the general public from the risk of contracting avian influenza. To achieve these goals, the United States will continue working in partnership with scientists and public health officials in Pakistan and around the world," Hunt said.

Speaking at the technical session, Prof Dr Muhammad Nawaz said, basically, birflu is the disease of birds. The temperature in the preparation of Pakistani foods with the use of oil reaches around 160 centigrade. This level of heat totally kills the bird flu virus in chicken-contained dishes like biryani, chicken korma, chicken shami and sandwich, making them safe for human consumption. Similarly, fully-boiled egg or fried egg is also safe for human health. But acting upon the basic principles of public hygiene is necessary. Washing hands properly with soap is also essential after touching any animal or bird and before and after taking meal, he added.

He said the attack of this virus on only 350 people of this world having the population of 6.5 billion has no significance and it cannot pose any threat to human beings in the near future.

Prof Masood Rabbani said that in Pakistan only one case of H5N1 virus has been reported to WHO during the last five years of vigilant surveillance. This indicates that the bird flu virus has not been capable of attacking human beings in our country and has not achieved ability of easy human-to-human transmission, he added.

Pakistan Medical Society Chairman Dr Masood Akhtar Sheikh said the world is facing the real and bigger threats from blood pressure, diabetes, TB, hepatitis, and HIV AIDS. For example, 20 million people are suffering from hepatitis, another 20 million from diabetes and 15 million are suffering from blood pressure and TB, he said.

He stated that the PMS has planned to arrange seminars, conferences and workshops to create public awareness of latest information among the masses to prevent this virus, as the Society has already done in the cases of HIV AIDS and Dengue.

Dr Asad Ashraf said it was strange that the people of the country do not pay any attention to the real issues being faced by them. "Our government will take up the issues in accordance with their gravity and severity and, fortunately, bird has not so far assumed the form of a serious issue. We should concentrate on diabetes, hypertension, cancer, HIV AIDS, hepatitis, which are some of the greatest threats to the health of the people of the third world," he said.

Ms Salman Khaliq said this seminar will go a long way in removing the superstitions of the people regarding the consumption of chicken and help restore the hustle and bustle and joys of kitchens. She expressed the hope that Pakistan Medical Society will continue holding such activities for the interest of the general public especially the females who have to do cooking.

Dr Aftab Asif said that in this era of disturbance when every fourth or fifth person is suffering from anxiety and depression, people are afraid of even small things, it is necessary to talk frankly and openly about all the diseases including bird flu so that all sorts of superstitions and confusions could be removed.

Dr Ziaur Rehman said the government has made all preparations for any sort of epidemic. He, however, made it clear that the bird flu virus is found nowhere in Balochistan and Punjab.