Special Correspondent

If it happens, the impact on the health of millions will be devastating

Developing countries will be worst hit No country is safe Indian response to H5N1 outbreak adequate

NEW DELHI: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said if the avian influenza virus undergoes mutation or re-assortment, it will be the start of a pandemic that can have a devastating impact on the health of millions of people around the world.

The worst affected will be the developing countries, where the health infrastructure is not ready or strong enough to cope with the situation, WHO Regional Director for Southeast Asia Samlee Plianbangchang said here on Thursday.

He was briefing members of the international community, including donor agencies, following requests from several missions based in New Delhi who wanted to better understand the situation and assess the overall risk to other countries in the region.

Jai P. Narain, Director, Communicable Diseases, WHO, said that in the evolving situation no country could be safe from the threat of the disease. There was no way of predicting the outbreak, and every country would have to strengthen surveillance and public health measures.

WHO representative to India S.J. Habayeb said that during the recent outbreak of H5N1 among poultry in Maharashtra, the country's response was adequate. The authorities quickly implemented control measures as per the plans they had prepared with the WHO. The Government recognised the seriousness of the threat of the virus. The threat could not be addressed by the health sector alone; ministries, agencies and stakeholders should also be involved.