HARBIN, March 4 (Xinhua) -- The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on Monday designated an animal influenza lab in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province as a reference center for animal influenza.
The Animal Influenza Laboratory, which belongs to the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute (HVRI) of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, is located in the provincial capital of Harbin.
The center is the first FAO-recognized reference center in China and the second in the world after the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, which is operated by the Friedrich Loeffer Institute of Germany.
The HVRI will share information and jointly carry out animal influenza supervision, prevention and control programs with the FAO, as well as provide data on epidemiology and influenza virus evolution in Asia and offer consultation on vaccines and immunity, Dr. Juan Luborth, chief veterinary officer of the FAO, said at a designation ceremony held on Monday.
"The world still faces new risks for avian influenza, as the H5N1 bird flu virus still plagues many Asian and Middle Eastern countries. If we fail to take action, the virus could cause a global pandemic worse than that seen in 2006," Luborth said.
According to statistics released by the FAO, more than 400 million poultry died or were slaughtered after contracting avian influenza from 2003 to 2011, causing economic losses of 20 billion U.S. dollars.
More than 500 people contracted the H5N1 virus from 2003 to 2011 and 300 of them lost their lives due to the virus.
Luborth said he is concerned about cuts in funding for avian influenza prevention that occurred after the global financial crisis.
"If veterinary services are not sufficiently supported, we are more likely to face an outbreak," he said.
He said more governments should boost funding for animal disease prevention, strengthen sanitation and guarantee safety in farms and markets.
"China has vast veterinary services and strong campaigns that can allow it to prevent avian influenza from spreading over from birds to humans. But some of its neighbors are unable to do so," Luborth said.
In February, the Ministry of Health confirmed that two H5N1 patients had died in a hospital in southwest China's Guizhou Province.
In the neighboring Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Nepal, avian influenza infections have also been reported recently.
China has paid attention to the prevention and control of avian influenza and an integrated bird flu control system has been created, said Yu Kangzheng, China's chief veterinary officer.
"China and the FAO have cooperated a great deal in areas related to animal epidemics and laboratory biosecurity in recent years. The establishment of the center will boost that cooperation," said Yu.
China and the FAO will also strengthen cooperative efforts to prevent and control the cross-border spread animal disease, as well as encourage exchanges of veterinary experience and information among different countries, Yu said.
"We will continue to accumulate experience and improve our capability to prevent and control avian influenza with the support of international organizations," Yu said.
The FAO plans to designate 50 animal health reference centers around the world to research veterinary epidemiology, laboratory biosecurity, animal epidemic diseases and zoonosis.