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[DHAKA] Seven South Asian nations will develop a common strategy against the threat of bird flu.

The plan is among a number of health-related collaborations agreed last week (26 April) by members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The association's members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Of these, India and Pakistan have reported outbreaks of bird flu in poultry — both since February — while the remaining five countries are on high alert.

The SAARC will convene a meeting of experts in the region to develop its influenza preparedness strategy, which will cover both human and animal health.

The strategy is expected to promote greater sharing of information and resources, as only some of the region's smaller nations lack the facilities to diagnose outbreaks of bird flu.

The plans were agreed by health ministers from SAARC countries at a meeting of in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The ministers also agreed to launch a regional strategy on HIV/AIDS.

Bangladesh's prime minister Khaleda Zia called for a broad coalition between governments and civil society groups to combat HIV/AIDS in South Asia.

"HIV/AIDS poses major health and economic challenges for contemporary South-Asia," said Khaleda, who is also SAARC's chair.

In addition, the SAARC ministers agreed to prepare an action plan for cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector, and to harmonise regulatory standards for pharmaceutical products.