Asia: Regional health meeting seeks bird flu strategy

South and southeast Asian countries met to discuss health strategies, including the fight against bird flu, in Bangladesh on Sunday ahead of a regional meeting of the World Health Organization.

The two-day ministerial meeting in the capital Dhaka will discuss strategies against malaria, avian flu and pandemic-influenza and other health-related issues, officials said.

Ministers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Thailand, East Timor and Sri Lanka attended the meeting inaugurated by host Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia.

India and Indonesia were represented by health ministry officials.

"We must devise affordable methods to contain diseases such as avian influenza, dengue, HIV/AIDS, malaria," Khaleda Zia told the meeting.

"Our countries (in the region) are faced with the unprecedented threats from emerging infectious diseases and the growing burden of chronic diseases," she said.

Bangladesh Health Minister Khandoker Mosharraf Hossain told reporters: "Not (in the) very distant past, Bangladesh was a malaria and polio-free country, but now these diseases have returned due to viruses and parasites infiltrating from neighboring countries.

"So, regional co-operation is a must in fighting against these fatal diseases."

A senior health ministry official said Bangladesh had detected 10 cases of polio since January 2006.

The WHO regional conference will be held in Dhaka on August 22-25, officials said.