Thank you for this invitation and it is my pleasure to join you in this important meeting - The South East Asian Red Cross Red Crescent Societies regional meeting on Avian Flu.
It is indeed very timely for the Red Cross and Red Crescent to organise such a meeting after a number of Avian and Human influenza meetings already organised by UN agencies, World Health Organisation and others where the International Federation has participated.
The recent Geneva meeting in November, the discussion among different organisations and world leaders focused on the 'challenge of a coordinated international response'.
There is a strong call for commitment, coordination and providing people and community on what to do and what is correct to do in different circumstances - the communication strategy in prevention, preparedness and response in Avian and Human Flu.
As the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, we have the responsibility in this commitment too with Red Cross help being of an auxiliary and complementary nature to the public authorities. A flu pandemic is too BIG a threat for one organisation or sector. It demands a joint and collective effort. Community and people are at the very centre of all these efforts.
This commitment is stressed further after Dr David Nabarro, the UN Senior coordinator for Avian and Human Flu presented his speech in our general assembly a few weeks ago in Seoul.
A decision was adopted with the presence of our worldwide network of National Societies. The decision states that the International Federation takes account of worldwide action to prepare for the possibility of an influenza pandemic and encourages all National Societies to contact their Ministries of Health and other appropriate authorities in their country, and integrate their resources into national planning to address the avian influenza epidemic and the threat of a human influenza pandemic.
We need and must prepare and be ready for response. Now is the time for us to plan ahead and act. The Avian Flu is evolving and is crossing borders. Lives have already been lost and families affected as the clock continues to tick. There is a human face and voice behind this. Children have lost their mothers. Families have lost their livelihood. We need to advocate for more to be done to reduce further suffering. We must make sure the affected people are not being stigmatised nor marginalised.
The community and the vulnerable people expect the Red Cross and Red Crescent with its government to be there working with them side by side in times of disaster and emerging threat. And let us remember the already vulnerable people will always be at the forefront being the hardest hit when the pandemic does approach.
Equal access to 'simple and understandable messages' should be available not only to the people who can read or write but also to the more vulnerable communities living in the rural areas and workers in the poultry farms. They have the right to know how to look after themselves and tell their families how to take preventive measures to prevent and prepare for Avian and human flu. The Red Cross and Red Crescent has a role to play bringing these key messages to the people.
Our volunteers and staff already have experience working with communities and vulnerable groups, visiting them house to house. I know in some national societies, you are already incorporating this information about prevention into the current community based programme - in East Timor, Philippines and others.
The experience in SARS highlighted the importance of coordination among governments, civil societies, WHO, CDC so that the correct information is used and rumours are stepped out as soon as they start. Some of our national societies are already in dialogue with their governments taking part in intra agency taskforce, such as in Indonesia.
Coordination also is very important for us within the Red Cross movement. It is very encouraging to see how our colleagues here from the Indonesian Red Cross, ICRC and Federation country delegation and bilateral societies are working together in organising this meeting.
Thank you for taking a lead on this. This is a sign of commitment and this will enhance a discussion on the regional commitment among other national societies in this meeting. This coordination can maximise the use of resources within the movement so that we can make a bigger and better contribution in the international response.
We need the leadership of our government, our already strong partner WHO in providing us technical guidance and we need other grass root organisations and communities to join us in making the prevention, preparedness and response work.
As a Movement, we need to share our experiences and resources better, using conference calls, intranets and meetings. We also need to work across sectors, so we can build on our existing response system. It is really good to hear that cross sectoral taskforce are being set up in National Societies.
Thank you for being here in this important meeting. We need the commitment from all of us working together. More importantly we need your commitment to ensure that your volunteers and local branches are inspired and prepared for this upcoming threat in a calm and planned manner. Your volunteers, communities and branches also need your support in facing the challenges ahead.
In SARS, we learnt that when the number of cases affected increased and number of people needed to be isolated and quarantined increased, then there may be a need for Red Cross and Red Crescent to get involved in care and support.
Not forgetting when the pandemic does come, it will also directly affect the formal government structures and our own organisations. We need to be prepared in order to know how to respond in the most effective way with also sufficient protection and appropriate training for our volunteers and staff.
Community and vulnerable people, coordination and commitment are important for us to prepare and be ready to respond. We need to work together and advocate that the community, governments, UN agencies, WHO, private sector, the Red Cross movement and other grass root organisations should all have our defined role to play in order to make a difference to minimise the impact of this potential flu pandemic.
This must be the clear message that we should jointly take to the Beijing meeting in January next year. The meeting is organised by the Chinese government, the European Commission and the World Bank to mobilise financial resources and set up management mechanism. A BIG threat of Avian flu and potential human influenza pandemic will require scaling up of our effort.
And let us not forget the community and people who still need our attention and support in Malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases which take thousand of lives each day.
Thank you once again for giving me this time and I wish you a very fruitful meeting tomorrow.