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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-01-26

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

CONTENTS

  • [01] Kyprianou: EU best prepared to tackle bird flu
  • [02] Greek children spent 34.38 euros per month in 2004

  • [01] Kyprianou: EU best prepared to tackle bird flu

    Brussels (ANA-MPA/M. Aroni) -- The European Union is the best prepared area in the world to confront a deadly virus pandemic, and this also covers Greece and Cyprus, EU Commissioner responsible for health and consumer affairs Markos Kyprianou said in an exclusive interview with the Athens News Agency/Macedonia Press Agency (ANA-MPA) released on Thursday.

    The Cypriot Commissioner noted at the same time that the creation of a common European reserve of anti-virus medicines required prior approval of the EU member states, adding that the European Commission has no authority on this matter.

    Kyprianou, who is currently on a visit to Turkey -- where several human deaths due to the avian influenza (bird flu) outbreak have been recorded -- said in reply to a relevant question that the Beijing Declaration issued at the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza held last week in the Chinese capital set out the framework for international cooperation.

    Two fundamental conclusions emanated from the Beijing Declaration, he said. The first conclusion was that the world bird flu conference succeeded in raising the sum of money required for confronting the bird flue threat at international level, particularly in the countries facing the problem today. He said the conference succeeded in achieving the 2 billion dollar target set, as it managed to raise 1.9 billion dollars, of which 1 billion dollars in donations and another 900 million dollars in the form of a loan. "We also encouraged the countries that have the problem to reinforce the national plans for tackling the flu. But let's not forget that we are talking about developing countries, without a solid economic gase, which need international reinforcement," he explained.

    The second conclusion, of equal importance, was the acknowledgement that bird flue comprised an international threat, Kyprianou continued.

    "This is not 'philanthropy', as in an instance of earthquake or natural disaster, but self-defence. By tackling the problem at its root, we are helping the entire world. What is important is that this cooperation will be expanded, in addition to the provision of economic support, also to scientific cooperation, research, exchange of information, etc. this is the first time there has been a global mobilisation of this extent before the disaster," the commissioner said.

    Asked about the current situation regarding the risk of a bird flu pandemic among humans, Kyprianou said that it was not known when a pandemic would develop, or if it would result from this specific bird flu virus.

    He said the bird flu virus was the "usual suspect", since it had already emerged and was beginning to affect human beings, but without having mutated yet. Kyprianou explained that, according to scientists, and taking history into account, the flu virus presented a periodical mutation that was more hazardous. "Consequently, we are obliged to prepare ourselfs, and have no justification for not doing so."

    Kyprianou stressed that the preparation measures would benefit the health systems.

    "We all hope that the flu pandemic never happens. But the preparation measures are an important investment that will not go to waste, because a defence system for facing any health threat is being created in every country," he explained.

    Asked whether the danger of a bird flu pandemic could prospectively die out as the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) scare had several years ago, Kyprianou said the bird flu virus was a much more difficult problem, as it was a "sly" virus that mutates, adapts and acts differently, not only between the human and animals, but also in every species of bird.

    To a relevant question, he opined that the day was still far away when it woulbe safe to say that the threat no longer existed.

    "However, what would certainly be a significant landmark would be our succeeding in wiping out the virus in animals and poultry. At the moment the flu is carried by wild birds and migratory birds, which makes it very difficult to control. If we manage to protect and stop the incidents in poyltry and in birds that come into contact with the human being, we shall have made an iportant step, because the less that the human being comes into contact with the virus, the more the chances are reduced of its mutating and developing into a human virus. The effort will take many years, and much time will elapse before we attain this target. We must be prepared that it is not a virus that will be wiped out in the space of a few months. This is why the 1.9 billion dollar global financing scheme has a three-year horizon, and perhaps even longer," the commissioner expounded.

    Asked what were the first indications that a region or a country has been hit by the bird flu pandemic, Kyprianou reiterated that there was no pandemic at this time, adding that the World Health Organisation (WHO) was the body that determined whether a pandemic existed, on the basis of specific criteria. If there was a constant and steady trend of communication of the virus from human to human, then WHO would declare a pandemic.

    "I believe that we are far away from such an eventuality, but that does not mean that we mustn't be prepared," he said, adding that "prevention is the best cure".

    At the same time, one must not dismiss the problem of the present flu virus affecting mainly poultry, nor the damage it has caused to the agricultural sector and the poultry breeding industry.

    He noted that in 2003 there was a similar instance of bird flu cases in The Netherlands that cost the Dutch economy 150 million euros. The bird flu has caused similar economic damage to the countries in SE Asia, whose exports are based on chickens and chicken meat, Kyprianou said. Naturally, he added, the primary goal was to protect human health, but one should not underestimate the great threat it posed by the virus to agriculture and poultry breeding.

    Asked about the Commission's funding of programmes to tackle bird flu and the confront a prospective lethal pandemic, Kyprianou said that, in the agricultural sector, the Commission was financing measures being taken to destroy infected poultry or for protection of the regions hit by the virus. The Commission was also funding the surveillance of and studies on wild birds, and in general all preventive measures

    "We are very fortunate that no such incident has arisen in the EU," he stressed.

    Regarding human health, the Commission was helping and coordinating the efforts of the member states, although it had no essential authority. The authority for human health isues continued to be the EU member states themselves, and consequently the Commission did not have funds for such a purpose. He said all the member states have their own national plans for tackling a pandemic, while the control exercise of those national plans, which took place in November, was financed by the Commission, as were all the measures for coordination and reinforcement, such as meetings of specialists for exchanges of views and for coordination of efforts.

    Kyprianou added that the EU had earmarked 20 million euros for bird-flu related research, which concerned existing and new research programmes related to the pharmaceutical side -- for the creation and preparation of a vaccine -- and also to shorten the approval time for such a vaccine in the event a pandemic arose.

    "Naturally, we cannot have a vaccine now, because there is no pandemic virus. However, we are taking all measures, with Commission funding, to shorten this time", he said, adding that the Commission was further funding research on the virus itself, namely on how it acted, how it mutated, and studies concerning the migratory birds and how they spread the virus.

    He said in reply to another question that the prospect of setting up a common European reserve of anti-virus medicines for coverage and treatment of the population was not being mulled, noting that this would be very difficult due to the vast size of the European population, but also because the Commission did not have such authority.

    Under EU legislation and the existing EU Treaty, each memb er state must take its own measures. What was being discussed, however, was the creation of a strategic reserve, as an immediate action measure, when the first cases of a pandemic arose on European territory, so as to contain them from spreading to the rest of the EU. This was something that would help the member states until they created their own reserves, he said, but explained that this was something that concerned the member states and did not fall under the Commission's authority. he said the member states must decide, at the Council of Ministers, to give the EU the legal authority, but also the financial ability, to create a stock of medicines, and naturally they also needed to decide who would administrate the reserve.

    The Commission, he said, has committed itself to presenting a document for discussion regarding what the issues were that needed to be decided for the creation of a reserve, but the rest was clearly under the jurisdiction of the member states.

    Asked whether he considered that the EU member states were adequately prepared to confront a lethal pandemic, and if he was satisfied with Greece's and Cyprus' preparation in particular, Kyprianou said it appeared that all the member states were prpeared today. He said all the plans were examined during the "military type" exercise held in November, and the individual weaknesses in each member state were pinpointed.

    At this time, he added, in cooperation with the member states as well as the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention, "we are trying to correct or fill in the gaps presented in each member states' plans, as well as the EU plan".

    "The EU is the best prepared region in the world. We have not reached perfection yet, there definitely is room for improvement, but we have reached a high level of preparedness, and this also covers Cyprus and Greece," Kyprianou said, adding that what was most important, in his opinion, was that a plan existed today, and in the event of a crisis, everyone know what needed to be done and when. The details needed to be filled in as soon as possible, he added.

    Asked how the member states must act if a lethal pandemic arose in Europe or in an EU member state, Kyprianou said that the action and confrontation plan of each member state should be immediately activated, as well as the Community plan. He said the impact on daily life would depend on the extent of the outbreak, explaining that a prospective pandemic would also affect the labour sector, as people would not be going to work and mass movement of populations would have to be restricted in order to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus.

    All these steps were provided in the preparation plans, he said, adding that if and when WHO sounded the warning bell for a pandemic, it was necessary to immediately implement the national plans in each country.

    Questioned on the purpose of his visit to Turkey, Kyprianou said that Turkey was a candidate for EU accession, and it also bordered geographically with the EU. Further, it was the first country near Europe in which the first human victims of bird flu were recorded, while the incidents among poultry was also widespread. Consequently, he would meet with the relevant ministers, while a third team of EU experts was also due in Turkey, where itain for some time, for the purpose of collaborating with the Turkish experts.

    The main purpose of his vist, however, was to intensify cooperation between Turkey and the EU, Kyprianou said.

    [02] Greek children spent 34.38 euros per month in 2004

    Greek children aged 6-13 spent an average 34.38 euros per month in 2004, the National Statistics Service said on Thursday.

    NSS, in its report on 2004, said 57.59 pct of pocket money was spent on fast food services, coffee, cafeterias and school cantines, while cultural and entertainment services accounted for 20.51 pct of pocket money.

    The survey was based on a sample of 6,555 private households with a total of 17,386 members around the country in the period February 2004-January 2005.

    Boys spent an average 35.05 euros per month, while girls 33.71 euros per month. Mobile telephony services accounted for 2.05 euros per month (boys) and 2.38 euros (girls). Girls also spent more money (5.07 pct) on personal care services, compared with 2.48 pct of boys. Girls generally spent more money in communication services (7.33 pct), from 6.56 pct of boys.

    Boys spent an average 3.51 euros per month in food products, while girls spent 3.16 euros.


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