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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Officials plan for avian flu pandemic

OFFICIALS from six Asian countries shared fears yesterday about how various parts of society could break down in a flu pandemic, voicing concerns ranging from food and water shortages to the mass movement of panic-stricken populations.Delegates from China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for a second day of exercises testing their ability to respond should the H5N1 bird flu virus mutate into a form that is more easily spread among humans.

Officials from agencies ranging from tourism to defense raised issues they would likely be forced to handle, including a flood of people seeking medical care in neighboring countries and a lack of public trust that could lead to social upheaval.

The participants were faced with a mock scenario that was certainly feasible: After 18 people from one Malaysian community tested positive for bird flu along with three health care workers, it was confirmed that the H5N1 virus had mutated into a form that could spread more easily among people. The virus then began to spread across the region and beyond.

The decisions made during the event, and the time it took to carry out the plans, helped the officials gauge how prepared they were for a real situation."We think this is a very dangerous point for us," said Dr Preecha Prempree, an epidemiologist from Thailand's Ministry of Health, who thinks Asia is the most likely place where a pandemic could emerge.

"We have to have cooperation in the region."The delegates referred to problems faced during the 2003 spread of the SARS virus, which emerged in Asia and killed nearly 800 people worldwide. They discussed the best strategies for protecting health care workers, keeping infected people from crossing borders and isolating the sick.

"They learned a lot from their experience with SARS, which doesn't necessarily mean they've solved all the problems that they had," said Dr Melinda Moore, a senior health researcher for the RAND Corp, a United States think tank that helped design the exercise. "But at least it's a basis for understanding where the gaps are, what the issues are - not just in the abstract but because they actually experienced them."

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Monk who rebuilt Buddhism in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, dies

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. --Maha Ghosananda, a monk who played a key role in rebuilding Buddhism in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, has died.

Ghosananda, who lived in Leverett and Providence, R.I., died Monday at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, hospital spokeswoman Christina Trinchero said. Trinchero did not know the cause of death or his age.

Non Nget, a senior Buddhist patriarch in Cambodia who has known Ghosananda since childhood, said he was 81.

In Cambodia, the country marked the passing of a "resilient advocate for peace" who had "made a lot sacrifices for the sake of happiness and peace," said Chhorn Iem, Cambodia's deputy minister for religious affairs.

The Cambodian monk lived in exile between 1975 and 1979, when the Khmer Rouge denounced Buddhism and caused the deaths of nearly 2 million people through starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

Ghosananda was one of the first monks to return to Cambodia and train new Buddhist leaders after Pol Pot's regime was toppled by the Vietnamese in 1979.

"He did everything he could to restore Buddhism to Cambodia," Jim Perkins, pastor of the Leverett Congregational Church and a friend of the religious leader, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Ghosananda was elected a Supreme Cambodian Buddhist Patriarch by fellow Buddhist monks in 1988 for restoring Buddhism in the war-torn country.

During the 1990s, he lead the Dhamma Yatra movement to rebuild religious life in Cambodia.
In 1994, he led a peace march to the northwestern town of Pailin, still a Khmer Rouge stronghold at the time. Three Cambodians taking part in the march, including a Buddhist monk and a nun, were killed in the crossfire between government soldiers and Khmer Rouge rebels but Ghosananda escaped unharmed.

In 1997, after the Khmer Rouge fighters in Pailin laid down their arms and rejoined the government, he successfully led another pilgrimage for peace to Pailin. This time, the marchers were warmly welcome by residents and former rebels of the Khmer Rouge, which had executed monks and destroyed Buddhist temples during the regime's reign of terror.

He moved to western Massachusetts in the late 1980s at the invitation of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order in Leverett, which seeks a complete elimination of weapons. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times in the mid-1990s.

He split his time between the Buddhist temples in Leverett and Providence, Perkins said.

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