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23 May 2003

Thompson Says SARS Resurgence is Possible

(Praises international anti-disease collaboration) (2390)

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson is
accepting a prediction from health experts that severe acute
respiratory syndrome (SARS) may be on the wane now but is likely to
come back with the next cold and flu season.


"There is scientifically and medically the possibility that it will
come back, and if it comes back there's a good possibility that people
could die from it, in places other than where they've already have
died," said Thompson at a meeting with reporters in Oslo, Norway.
Thompson has visited several European nations since May 19 on a trip
that will take him to the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Thompson has also been meeting with European counterparts about their
mutual support and participation in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria. Thompson spoke positively about his meetings
with health officials from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the
Netherlands, and their discussions on how to insure that the fund is
able to maintain sufficient capital to underwrite anti-disease
programs in the developing world.

The following terms are used in the text:

CDC:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

NIH:  National Institutes of Health

UNFPA: United Nations Population Fund

TRP: Technical Review Panel of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria, which evaluates applications for grants to
the fund and makes recommendations to the fund's governing body on
disease-fighting projects to support.

Following is the transcript of the Thompson briefing:

(begin transcript)

Press Conference with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy
Thompson

Oslo, Norway
May 22, 2003

QUESTION: Okay, I'll start. I think you mentioned earlier this week
that you're concerned about SARS spreading in Europe and in the United
States and...

THOMPSON: I think I was a little bit misquoted. What I said was that
there is a possibility that SARS could act like other infectious
diseases. It goes down thirty times, especially in the summer months
and it comes back in the fall. We're not sure, we're hoping that
that's not the case but it's a possibility. It could come back in the
future. It's mutating. You don't exactly know what the results are
going to be.

We're hoping that we're going to be able to can it right now so it
doesn't come back, but there is scientifically and medically the
possibility that it will come back, and if it comes back there's a
good possibility that people could die from it, in places other than
where they've already have died such as China, Taiwan, Bangkok, and
Canada. We have no proof of this, but our scientists feel that we have
a severe SARS problem.

Q: How well prepared do you think the United States is for SARS
compared to Canada? And have you learned anything from the way Chinese
authorities...

THOMPSON: I think that the public health workers in the United States
and around the world have handled it extremely well. We've isolated,
we've used good hygiene, and put out advisory notices, but I'd just
like to point out that when you compare this to other viruses and
(inaudible) my department has done a remarkable job. In less than six
weeks after we got a chance to go in and get involved in China, we
were the ones who were able to determine that this was the coronavirus
and not the paramyxovirus that other laboratories had indicated it
was. It was a different family of virus.

Secondly, we've been able to, not only been able to determine the
virus, we've been able to map it and we've been able to come up with,
not one but three diagnostic tests in six weeks. Which is absolutely
remarkable if you put in its proper perspective. It's a different
virus, of course, and not as complex as HIV, but HIV was three years
before they were able to determine that it was a HIV virus. From 1979
to 1982, 1983. There's a difference in dates that different people
use, but three years. o, this is a remarkable thing.

So I think that we have learned a lot, people are working hard, we're
seeing a, certainly a reduction of SARS infections, which is good. Of
course, we're hopeful that it doesn't come back, but its possible that
it will come back like a common cold, as this is the family of the
common cold and so it's possible it will come back in a different
strain or format, different mutation, but we think that we have the
procedures in place. We're hopeful that we'll have the capacity to
handle it if it's a real explosive infection. There are always ways to
improve them and the bio-terrorism preparedness has certainly got us
better prepared to respond, not only to bio-terrorism, but to a public
health infection epidemic like SARS or any other pandemic flu that may
come.

Q: In what way?

THOMPSON: Oh, well, the communication, we've got the communication
systems set up throughout the public health system, called health
support network, we've got 90 percent of the health department
connected to CDC and to my office and to NIH, we have amounts of
money, 1.1 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2002, 1.5 billion
dollars that we're setting up now in fiscal year 2003, to build
capacity to build response, to build security as well as expanded
laboratory capacity, all of these things put us in a much better
stead, I can go into a lot of detail, but I don't think we have the
time with all the things we're doing in bio-terrorism, which also
spins up off into public health infrastructure which is going to make
our public health system much stronger.

Q: Have you and minister Karlsson been discussing the malaria fund
today and have you been discussing different views on this fund, and
if so, what different views?

THOMPSON: We've had about an hour and half good discussion with the
point 7 committees. I believe Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and Holland
were in the room. Everybody had a chance. I asked for their opinions,
as far as how I could do my job better as chairperson, how I could
stay in communication with them. We discussed items about prevention,
we discussed items about treatments, and we discussed the resource
issue, the need for more money. What I would like to do in the board
meeting in June about the resource allocation, because there's not
going to be enough money at this point in time, it appears that there
will not be in the October session, when we're expecting that plans
have been approved by the TRP of about 1.5 billion dollars and we have
at the present time only about 300 million dollars, but I was
successful in Brussels and the European Commission is going to advance
or pay up the 60 million euros that they owe from last year or
commitment that they made last year, they converted their pledge into
cash this week, and they're going to, also, use some more money for
fiscal year 2003 and 2004, so we're making some progress, but I still
don't think that it's going to be enough, and I wanted to hear the
responses about how we should handle that and also discuss the items
dealing with the president's initiative, the ten billion dollars of
new money, the fifteen billion dollars totally. We also talked about
how we would set up a program so we would not duplicate and overreach
and all of this was a very, from my point of view and you'll have to
ask the other people, but it was a very successful and open,
informative meeting.

Q: Did the minister voice any differences between the United States
view of the fund and the Swedish view?

THOMPSON: There were questions. They wanted to know my opinion and
also the opinion of the United States but overall we reached agreement
on most the items, and I didn't find huge points of differences in
which the point 7 countries have one position that's unacceptable to
the United States. I didn't get that at all, in fact, just the
opposite.

Q: You said there were issues.  What issues were they?

THOMPSON: I just mentioned all the issues that we were discussing. I'm
sure I missed a couple, but the main issues. Overall it was just a
very warm and positive meeting and it was a meeting to get to know
each other and how we could communicate better. And there were
concerns raised. And I raised concerns, there are things we can work
on, there are no huge differences.

Q: Did Mr. Karlsson mention anything about a statement he is supposed
to have said yesterday in a press lunch, about Mr. Bush?

THOMPSON: He mentioned in the meeting about his position on UN FPA and
his disappointment in the United States not funding it. We pointed out
that after some research and findings by the Department of State, not
my ministry, but the Department of State, that we based our decision
on not funding UNFPA because of the findings we found in China about
population control, abortion, and as you know, our administration is
anti-abortion. And of using abortion as a way of population control
was something that we find offensive, and so we did not fund that
portion of the United Nations for this year, future funding decisions
are going to be continually reviewed, and they may change in the
future, but right now they stand as announced by the Department of
State, and the minister encouraged we start funding it again, and I
explained the position of our government, and he did mention that he
made some strong statements, but did not tell me that it was a
personal statement against the president.

Q: Tell me little bit about what the administration is doing on the
small pox vaccine?

THOMPSON: How much time do you have? (laughter)

Q: Just the gist of it.

THOMPSON: Basically you know, we made the vaccine available to the
states, we asked the states for their plans, and the states came in
and recommended that they would use upward to 500,000 doses of
vaccine, and subsequent to the sending out of vaccine to the states
there is also a lot of discussion regarding the adverse consequences
of the vaccine and there was not a fund set up to compensate people
who had a reaction and so, several unions came out in opposition to it
(inaudible) and that belayed the way that the implementation of the
fund plus it had prevented some people from getting vaccinated and now
we have practically 37,000 people vaccinated , we need around 50,000,
that is the critical mass in order to have the first line of defense
those people properly immunized that could then go out and vaccinate,
if we did in fact ever have a smallpox epidemic. And so we're close to
reaching the critical mass, but we're not there yet.

Q: Do you also stockpile?

THOMPSON: We have enough vaccine for every man, woman and child.

Q: There's a non-replicating vaccine that's also being developed.

THOMPSON: Yes, As we put out in our RFP asking for new vaccine, the
smallpox as well as anthrax, and we've given out contracts to
companies for those.

Q: What's the future for that?

THOMPSON: Oh, we think it's very good. We think it's going to be a
more moderate vaccine that's not going to have the reactions that the
virus that was put in the vaccine currently has. Until that is
developed, until that starts being produced, we want this other
vaccine, canvasbaxter 2000, is the name of it, produced, so we would
be able to affect every man, woman and child in America, we have some
additional vaccine, vaccine that we got from Avenis Pasteur, we have
80 million doses of that, so at 1 to 5 we have approximately 300-400
million doses of that we could use, but that is not licensable, but
the Acambis Baxter 2000 is licensable and that is going though the
process of being licensed right now.

Q: But in the future you'd expect the vaccine to take over.

THOMPSON: Yes, that is our plan.

Q: Please tell me, in the context of this large program against HIV
spreading in the third world, what main strategies are you foreseeing
for this purpose?

THOMPSON: We have just passed in Congress, the president's emergency
relief plan for HIV/AIDS, and it will be for 12 countries in
sub-Saharan Africa, and where 70 percent of the cases of HIV/AIDS are
currently located, and in two countries in the Caribbean, Guyana and
Haiti. And we're putting this money out, over the next five years,
it's going to be a huge amount of dollars, localized and specifically
addressed towards the elimination or the reduction of the transmission
of HIV/AIDS from mother to child, through breast milk-feeding, and we
are looking at ways to treat up towards to two to three million
individuals in these countries, as well as preventing seven million
individuals from coming down with HIV/AIDS, plus attending to the
palliative as well as medical care of ten million other individuals
who have HIV and are infected, as well as orphans. And so it's a very
ambitious program, one that is really being pushed by the president,
and one that has received bipartisan support in Congress, and the
president will sign the bill because it has passed Congress, will be
signing it very shortly.

Q: One of the most efficient ways of stopping the HIV epidemic is by
distributing condoms. Is that a possible means in this program?

THOMPSON: It's part of the program and will be used for family
planning and setting up programs of NGOs that will use many methods
and different innovations to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Q: How about America herself? There are a large number of people with
HIV in America. Will there be a similar program national...

THOMPSON: There are about 800,000 individuals that are HIV positive in
America, and we have a very aggressive program for treatment and
testing, as well as prevention.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)