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The World Bank and UN health, agricultural and veterinary bodies are holding a 'make or break' summit next week on the threat posed by the H5N1 bird flu virus to humans.

The meeting, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, aims to identify ways of controlling bird flu and preparing for a human flu pandemic, while undertaking a comprehensive global risk assessment.

Five vital issues face the summit, according to this editorial in The Lancet.

These include improving detection and containment of avian flu in birds; improving global surveillance and reporting; and boosting supplies of antiviral drugs by tackling intellectual property rights issues. The main drugs are under patent, meaning that unless alternative arrangements are made, only the patent holder can produce them.

Other key issues, says the editorial, are how to use antiviral drugs in a pandemic while avoiding the development of viral resistance to them, and how to prevent a pandemic spreading — especially in developing countries that are less well prepared.

The editorial praises the 'unusual' move of opening the meeting to the press, pointing out that such transparency and public engagement will be critical should a pandemic occur.

Link to full editorial in The Lancet*

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