An Indonesian official said Wednesday that officials in charge of the bird flu outbreak response teams in Southeast Asia have agreed to assess the ability of their governments to respond to a deadly human pandemic of the virus.
A three-day meeting of representatives from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed countries must be better organised to tackle a human-to-human outbreak of H5N1, Bayu Krisnamurthi told AFP.
Many of the 10 states had little organised bureaucracy or infrastructure to tackle a pandemic, which could kill millions if it mutates into a more easily transmissable form, Krisnamurthi said.
"Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, have experienced human cases. Others have not. That's the main difference between countries," the official, who heads Indonesia's bird flu committee, said after the meeting in Medan.
"First we would like an assessment of ASEAN countries on pandemic preparedness ... if pandemic influenza happened in one of the (ASEAN) countries, the reach and the impact would be on a regional scale," he said.
Countries are expected to finish assessing their preparedness by January or February next year, Krisnamurthi said.
Health ministers from the 10 ASEAN states will also meet in the Philippines capital Manila in October to discuss preparedness and the need to develop a "common language" to deal with the threat, he said.
Indonesia is the country most heavily affected by the H5N1 virus, with 110 of the worldwide total of 243 confirmed human deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.