TOPICS: Foreign Policy & Defense and Healthcare
& Health Issues
July 18, 2005
Remarks of U.S. Senator Barack Obama
Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill and the Avian Flu
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
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
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
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
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.