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Second FSM Pandemic Influenza Summit

Miriam K. Hughes — U.S. Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia

March 10, 2008 — Pohnpei Hospital Training Room, Nan Mal, Pohnpei, FSM

Thank you for the opportunity to be here at the opening of the second Pandemic Influenza Summit in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The U.S. Government remains concerned about the ongoing outbreaks of a highly pathogenic influenza in birds and its potential for a human influenza pandemic. A pandemic, of course, would have major global health, economic and social consequences. I recall reading about a pandemic in 1918, which spread rapidly and killed 40 million people. So we have learned the critical importance of developing contingency plans and engaging all players actively in the planning process.

Regarding the avian or bird flu, we know that the H5N1 virus is deadly to domestic fowl and to humans, if transmitted. It has infected a growing number of people. Fortunately, there is no known incidence of transmittal from person to person. For this to happen, the H5N1 virus would need to improve its transmissibility among humans. Such a mutation would be grave. For there is virtually no human immunity and human vaccine availability is very limited.

For this reason, the United States has so far allocated some $6.3 billion in emergency funding to address the threat domestically and internationally. The United States is supporting preparedness efforts in more than 67 countries through a variety of organizations, including the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, and others. The summit that is about to begin today also reflects valuable partnerships. Its sponsors are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; also, the World Health Organization; the FSM Department of Health and Social Affairs; and the four proud and unique states of the FSM – Yap, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Kosrae.

We have two distinguished American representatives here today from the Centers for Disease Control: Ms. Barbara Cooper and Mr. Anthony Santarsiero. Another distinguished American, Dr. Boris Pavlin, is present to participate on behalf of the World Health Organization. Col. Phillip Hockings, a most important participant, represents the U.S. Army Pacific. Last January, the U.S. Army Pacific Joint Task Force-Homeland Defense co-hosted the first Avian and Pandemic Influenza Workshop with the Federated States of Micronesia.

One of the lessons learned at that workshop was that a possible Pandemic Influenza crisis is not the sole responsibility of a single agency. A crisis would span several jurisdictions, including health services, immigration, disaster coordinators, airport security, public information, the Red Cross and others. The states and their communities would be key players. So I return to the paramount importance of preparedness and partnership, which is precisely what the United States Government seeks to promote across the board in this beautiful and evolving Pacific Island region.

In health, as in so many areas, human cooperation and planning are keys to saving lives and paving the way to progress. I commend the networking, exercises and exchange of ideas that will inspire knowledge and new approaches over the next few days at this Summit, and I intend to keep informed of the outcome. In our deep and friendly relationship with the Federated States of Micronesia, the U.S. Government and the American people support dialogue at every level. This Summit will be one more vital link in our lives and our bilateral relationship.