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Avian Influenza

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what estimate he has made of the likelihood of a global pandemic of avian influenza; and if he will make a statement; (209171)

(2) what contingency plans his Department has to deal with a pandemic of avian influenza;

(3) what work his Department is undertaking (a) with EU partners and (b) through the World Health Organisation to tackle the problem of avian influenza and H5N1.

There were three influenza pandemics in the last century. It is highly likely that another influenza pandemic will occur at some time, although it is impossible to forecast its exact timing or the precise nature of its impact.

In order to ensure the United Kingdom is as prepared as possible, a number of exercises have been run to test our level of preparedness and last November we published the “National framework for responding to an influenza pandemic”. This sets out the Governments overall strategy in preparing for, and responding to, an influenza pandemic. Copies of this publication are available in the Library.

The Department regularly attends international conferences, meetings and workshops, hosted by the European Union (EU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed at sharing information and exchanging ideas about pandemic influenza preparedness planning.

The UK is a member of the EU Health Security Committee which has a programme of work on pandemic influenza; we are also actively involved in the review of the WHO pandemic planning guidance and indicator work. Departmental officials are working with countries and the WHO to establish a more transparent WHO system for sharing influenza viruses and helping ensure more equitable access to benefits. We are also working with the upcoming French presidency to help plan a technical meeting on pandemic influenza and an informal ministerial meeting on health security threats, and are working with the G7 countries and Mexico on border and associated issues.