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24th Conference of the OIE Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania - Seoul (Republic of Korea) 15-18 November 2005

The Government of the Republic of Korea kindly agreed to host the 24th Conference of the OIE Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania in its capital city, Seoul. This Regional Commission has 31 Member Countries and is one of the five Regional Commissions of the OIE. The Conference was presided by His Excellency Mr Hong-Soo Park, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of the Republic of Korea, Dr Chang-Seob Kim, Director of the Animal Health Directorate and Dr Gardner Murray, President of the OIE Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania. The Director General of the OIE, Dr Bernard Vallat, the OIE Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, Dr Teruhida Fujita, the Head of the OIE Regional Activities Department, Dr Dewan Sibartie, Delegates of Member Countries of the OIE, representatives of international and regional organisations and observers also attended the Conference.

In his introductory address, the Director General of the OIE, Dr Bernard Vallat, expressed his gratitude on behalf of the 167 OIE Member Countries to the Authorities of the Republic of Korea for hosting this very important meeting.

Dr Vallat explained that the international scene was currently dominated by the occurrence of avian influenza in animals and its potential to lead to a human pandemic. The inclusion of avian influenza as the main technical item was, therefore, very timely. Dr Vallat described the collaboration of the OIE with other international organisations in the control of the disease in animals and the prevention of a pandemic, also underlining the role of the OIE to seek assistance for developing countries. Reiterating his previous assertions that the best way to prevent the pandemic is to reduce or eliminate the virus from the animal source, he added "I believe that there is still a window of opportunity for substantially reducing the risk of a human pandemic by minimising the virus load in animals world-wide. This can be achieved through a series of measures that have been recommended to Member Countries by the OIE and the FAO".

He explained that the OIE has through its world-wide network of Reference Laboratories and experts, provided Member Countries with standards on AI surveillance and safe trade in poultry and poultry products, a choice of vaccines that can be applied and a joint OIE/FAO forum for the exchange of scientific information and virus strains, which may be used for the early manufacture of human vaccines. He also explained the technical assistance provided to developing countries in the control of the disease. Outlining the importance of Veterinary Services, he commented "Strengthening animal disease surveillance systems world-wide is essential for tracking the evolution of the pathogenic agent, which is crucial for the prevention of any future global crisis associated with emerging animal diseases potentially transmissible to humans".

In this respect, Dr Vallat addressed a special message to politicians and other policy-makers urging them to consider strengthening of the Veterinary Service as an 'International Public Good' and to ensure that adequate resources are provided to Veterinary Services to enable them to develop a rapid and early detection and response system with respect to disease incursions. "Investment in animal health through Veterinary Services should be considered as a priority for its role in more effectively controlling animal diseases, in protecting public health and in improving regional and international market access for the benefit of the Asian region and the international community as a whole" Dr Vallat said.

The other technical item discussed during the Conference concerned bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Formally considered as a European disease, BSE has now spread to other regions resulting in major trade disruptions and serious loss of consumer confidence. This is unfortunately sometimes the result of speculation, which is not based on science. In this respect, Dr Vallat remarked: "The OIE is committed to providing science-based standards, guidelines and recommendations developed by world renowned scientists for the prevention, control and eradication of the disease world-wide".

New developments in OIE aquatic animal diseases and health policies with special reference to Asia were presented and discussed. Presentations were also made by representatives of international and regional organisations explaining their collaboration with the activities of the OIE. The achievements of the OIE SEAFMD Programme in the sub-regional harmonisation of FMD control were discussed and suggestions made to broaden the activities of the Programme to support Veterinary Services in the control of other major animal diseases such as avian influenza. The OIE Regional Commission expressed its appreciation and gratitude to the support provided to Member Countries of the Region by the OIE and strongly supported the actions being undertaken by the OIE to promote the control of animal diseases and zoonoses world-wide and in the region. Finally, several Recommendations particularly on avian influenza and BSE control were discussed and adopted. These recommendations, which are of great interest to the 31 Member Countries of Asia, the Far East and Oceania, will be submitted for consideration during the OIE General Session of all Member Countries in May 2006.