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Remarks of U.S. Senator Barack Obama on the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill and the Avian Flu

Location: Washington, DC

Remarks of U.S. Senator Barack Obama on the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill and the Avian Flu

Mr. President, I rise today in support of H.R. 2057, the Foreign
Operations Appropriation Bill. I'd also like to highlight one aspect of
the bill.

Since coming to the Senate six months ago, one of the foreign policy and
health issues I have focused on relates to the avian flu. I am pleased
that this bill includes $10 million to combat the spread of this
potential pandemic, adding to the $25 million that the Senate provided
in the supplemental appropriations bill in April.

I thank the managers of this bill, Senators McConnell and Leahy, and
their staffs for working with me on this important issue. I know that
Senator McConnell has a longstanding interest in Southeast Asia, and
Senator Leahy has always been a champion of international health issues,
making the avian flu something I know they both care deeply about.

In the last few weeks, scientists have reported that a deadlier version
of the avian flu has now spread to migrant birds that could carry the
disease out of Asia and across the world.

While it may not seem that threatening to many Americans at first, this
bird flu could easily transform into a human flu. And if it does, it
could be one of the deadliest flus mankind has ever known - even worse
than the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 675,000 Americans and 50 million

Already, there have been 108 human cases of avian flu, resulting in 54
deaths. And while the virus has not yet mutated into a full-blown human
flu, recent developments suggest it might be heading in that direction.
In recent months, the virus has been detected in mammals that have never
previously been infected, including tigers, leopards and cats. A few
weeks ago, the World Health Organization reported that avian flu strains
in Vietnam are lasting longer and spreading to more humans. And
according to government officials, a few cases of human-to-human spread
have already occurred.

Every day, there are new reports about the increasing dangers of the
avian flu. Last month, it was revealed that Chinese farmers have tried
to suppress outbreaks of the avian flu by using human antiviral drugs on
infected animals. As a result, one strain of the virus has become
resistant to these drugs, thus making the drugs ineffective in
protecting humans against a possible pandemic. And just this week,
researchers found that ducks infected with the virus were contagious for
up to 17 days, causing the animals to become - in the researchers' words
- "medical Trojan horses" for transmitting the disease to humans.

Simply put, the world is not ready for a potential outbreak of this
deadly flu. In fact, we aren't even close.

There is no known vaccine for the avian flu, and producing one could
take months once an outbreak occurs. And while the World Health
Organization recommends that every nation stockpiles enough flu
treatment to treat a quarter of its population, the United States has
only ordered enough to treat less than 1% of ours.

We can't just stand by and hope that this virus doesn't reach our shores
when it only takes hours to travel from one side of the world to the
other. It's time for America to lead the world in taking decisive
action to prevent a potential global tragedy.

We should start by doing what we can to fight the virus while it's still
mainly in Southeast Asia. That's why I fought for and obtained $25
million for prevention efforts by the CDC, the Agency for International
Development, the Health and Human Services Department, and other
agencies. And that's why I requested another $10 million in this bill.

In addition, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved language
that I offered directing President Bush to form a senior-level task
force to devise an international strategy to deal with the avian flu and
coordinate policy among our government agencies. I hope that the Bush
administration forms this task force immediately without waiting for
legislation to be passed.

Yet, these are only modest first steps. International health experts
believe that Southeast Asia will be an epicenter of influenza for
decades. That's why we need to create a permanent framework for
curtailing the spread of future infectious diseases - a framework that
would increase international disease surveillance, response capacity and
public education and coordination, especially in Southeast Asia.

But we must also prepare our own country in the event that a global
pandemic reaches America. That's why I recently introduced the AVIAN
Act, which helps make sure that Americans are protected from a possible
outbreak of the avian flu.

When the threat is this real, we should be increasing research into
possible flu vaccines, and we should be ordering enough doses of flu
treatment to cover the recommended 25% of our population - just like
England and other Western countries have done.

We should also ensure that our Health and Human Services department and
state governments put in place a plan as to how they would address a
potential flu pandemic, including the purchasing and distributing of
vaccines. A year after a draft of a federal plan was published, a final
version has yet to be finalized. We shouldn't have to wait any longer,
because the avian flu certainly won't.

We are extremely fortunate that so far, the avian flu has not been found
in the United States. But in an age when you can board planes in Bangkok
or Hong Kong and arrive in Chicago, Burlington or Louisville in hours,
we must face the reality that these exotic killer diseases are not
isolated health problems half a world away, but direct and immediate
threats to security and prosperity here at home.

Again, I thank Senators McConnell and Leahy for including this important
funding in the supplemental appropriations bill and now including
additional funding in this bill. And I thank the distinguished chairman
of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Lugar, for his leadership on
this issue

I ask unanimous consent that several articles and editorials about the
avian flu be included in the record. Thank you, and I yield the floor.

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