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[BEIJING] Five Asian nations and Canada today (25 April) launched a partnership to help identify ways of tackling outbreaks of bird flu.

The Asian Research Partnership on Pandemic Influenza will study issues such as whether to vaccinate poultry in the wake of a bird flu outbreak. It will also support scientist exchanges, networking, and information-sharing activities.

The initiative is funded mainly by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which has committed US$1.8 million. The five partner nations — Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam — will also provide funds.

"The five Asian countries joining the partnership have quite different practices for controlling bird flu," says Stephen McGurk, the IDRC's regional director for South-East and East Asia.

"With this partnership, we can study the impacts of different control measures as well as their costs and risks, to find more satisfactory solutions."

Cambodia, China and Indonesia respond to outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu virus by vaccinating poultry to protect them from infection.

Vietnam and Thailand, meanwhile, have banned vaccination. They fear widespread vaccination could allow the virus to continue spreading undetected, or could help it become resistant to the vaccine.

The partnership will also provide grants for research on the social and environmental impacts of bird flu, which McGurk says have been "largely neglected by current research and interventions."

He adds that such studies would be crucial to policymakers.

Amin Soebandrio, assistant deputy minister of medical and health sciences at the Indonesian Ministry for Research and Technology, says the partnership will help member nations control the spread of bird flu and minimise its impact.

The partners include the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council of Thailand, Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology, the Cambodian and Indonesian health ministries, as well as the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada.