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Asean Ministers To Meet Over Swine Flu

Health ministers of the 10 Asean countries will meet in Thailand within the next 10 days to discuss the region’s collective response to the growing numbers of swine flu cases worldwide, officials said Wednesday.

The statement follows public remarks by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday urging a meeting of Asean member states while at the same time calling for calm in Cambodia.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization warned countries to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic of the H1N1 influenza, which so far may have killed more than 150 people, most of them from Mexico, the center of the outbreak.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told VOA Khmer Wednesday Thai authorities had passed along Hun Sen’s message. Thailand is currently the head of Asean, which has a rotating chairmanship.

After some discussion, it was agreed the health ministers should meet in Bangkok during the first 10 days of May, he said.

Cambodia has already installed thermal monitors at its two international airports, and Hun Sen encouraged people to wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease.

But officials say an Asean response could help mitigate the effects of a potential global outbreak.

“In my opinion, such a meeting is very appropriate,” said Sry Thamarong, a senior adviser to Hun Sen. “We can find a way to prevent the disease from getting into our countries. Prevention is better than a cure.”

Countries reporting cases are Austria, Britain, Canada, Germany, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the US, Spain and Switzerland, according to media reports. No cases have so far been confirmed in Asia.