The World Health Organisation has denied reports published online in the journal Nature that it is being thwarted in its attempts to combat avian flu by a lack of cooperation from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO; www.nature.com/news/2005/050509/full/435131a.html).
The article claimed that WHO had not received any data on isolates from infected poultry from the organisation for the past eight-months and quoted a WHO official as saying that the FAO had not been sharing the information it had.
Peter Cordingley, WHO’s spokesman in Manila, said, “It is true that we have not received any data from infected poultry isolates but only because the FAO itself has not received any samples, but the comment that they have not been sharing the data they do have is a result of a miscommunication with the reporter,” said Cordingley.
“This is the first time that the FAO, World Organisation for Animal Health, and WHO have had to work together on an international crisis of this scale. There was a lot of blundering around at first, and we are still feeling our way but the situation is a lot better now than it was in the early days,” said Cordingley.
Cordingley also said that claims in the journal that WHO had received only six samples from the 44 cases of H5N1 avian flu infection since December last year were misleading. “Since December 2004, Vietnam has provided well over 100 human clinical samples, including 13 in the past month, and those samples have gone to the laboratories within the WHO Collaborating Centre Network,” said Cordingley. “Of the specimens that have gone out, the laboratories were only able to draw a handful of virus isolates. We have the data from those samples,” he said.
Cao The Hai, aged 55, the latest person to contract avian flu, sits in an isolation ward in Hanoi, Vietnam
“The question is, why has it been so difficult to get samples of the virus? We don’t know, but most of the samples were from northern Vietnam, where there have been cases of light and asymptomatic infection and we think the viral load in samples from those cases may have been very low,” he said.
WHO would still like to receive more epidemiological data on the outbreaks, however. “We need to have more of the nitty gritty data to determine whether or not we are moving towards a pandemic,” said Cordingley.
Since December 2004, of the 44 confirmed human cases of H5N1 avian flu in Vietnam 16 have been fatal. The Vietnamese authorities reported a new case of human infection on 13 May, in a 55 year old man.
Declan Butler, who wrote the news article for Nature, said that he stood by his story.
Credit: HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/GETTY