As an international and EU reference laboratory for avian influenza, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) has responsibility for verifying other countries’ test results. The VLA takes a leading role in developing and defining standards and keeps abreast of the latest information. It has frequent discussions with its counterparts overseas and, as a result, is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence in veterinary research.
Since the H5N1 strain of the virus emerged in South East Asia four years ago, I have had discussions on a regular basis with ministerial counterparts in the EU. Ministers and officials have been actively involved in discussions and the provision of assistance, at an international level, on avian influenza. Examples of this include:
i. At the pledging conference in Bamako, Mali, on 6 to 8 December 2006, the fourth global bird flu summit since late last year, the UK Government committed to assist countries at risk or affected by avian influenza. The Department for International Development will provide £30 million over the next three years to support country, regional or global activities.
ii. The UK presidency of the EU in 2005 provided technical support (central research laboratories (CRL) and veterinary assistance) to many countries.
iii. Under the UK presidency, Commission funds were provided to enable OIE and the International Animal Health Organisation to hold technical programmes on Al in Eastern Europe.
iv. During our presidency, the UK delegation represented the EU at the international partnership on avian and pandemic influenza on 7 October 2006; and the Geneva partners’ meeting on avian and human pandemic influenza on 7 to 9 November.
v. The Government have significantly enhanced the arrangements for surveillance of wild birds, including the investigation of die-offs and sampling at shoots and wetlands. The arrangements have been agreed as part of co-ordinated efforts across the European Union.
vi. UK research bodies are also keen to collaborate with affected and at-risk countries. The Medical Research Council has a £10 million collaborative programme which can support such partnerships as required.