By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Ministers of health and agriculture from around the world are gathering in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt to formulate a global plan to prepare for, and respond to, the threat of avian flu and other emerging infectious diseases at the International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza (October 24-26).

The plan – called the One World, One Health initiative – aims for an unprecedented integration of animal, human and ecosystem health issues to fight the threat of the avian flu virus, H5N1. But will the ministers come up with an agreement that works in this era of rapid change?

The two-day conference – with 500 participants from 116 countries, including 50 health and agriculture ministers – is being co-organized by the European Union as part of global efforts to combat the disease.

Just days ago, the United Nations system influenza coordinator David Nabarro was warning that more needs to be done to prepare the world for a major influenza pandemic.

“Considering that pandemic preparedness was largely unaddressed by the world’s nations three years ago, the widespread awareness and action seen today is a major achievement,” said Mr Nabarro.

“But more needs to be done to ensure that we are ready for this kind of major global crisis,” he added during the launch of a joint report with the World Bank.

The World Bank had warned that an avian influenza pandemic could bring economic losses as high as 3 trillion dollars, or about 5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). The issue has unsurprisingly grabbed the attention of the world’s press.

A new report published today by Professor Ian Scoones and Paul Forster of the ESRC STEPS Centre lays out 10 key recommendations for One World, One Health, based on analysis of lessons learned from the massive $2bn international response to the avian flu over the past five years, during which time 245 people have died.

Paul is on his way to Egypt to take part in the conference and will be blogging on what happens, so keep an eye on The Crossing.