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Today, avian influenza infects birds. If it found a more convenient host in humans, the results would be deadly; the scale and magnitude would be greater than any hospital, humanitarian organization or government could cope with.

Responding effectively to a bird flu pandemic would require everyone to work together — governments, civil society, health personnel and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Already, many National Societies are preparing for and responding to outbreaks of bird flu. Volunteers are spreading messages about safe food handling in markets and restaurants. At the same time, senior Red Cross Red Crescent managers are working with their counterparts in other organizations to set up systems and networks they hope will never spring into action.

In preparing for the worst, National Societies, the International Federation and the ICRC draw on experience with health emergencies such as SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome), Ebola, cholera and other non-health emergencies. Without trained Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers such as ours, in every community, the world could not hope to prepare for or respond adequately to a pandemic.

Even as we hope for the best, the work we do now constitutes invaluable experience, not only to prepare for a pandemic, but also for other similar global threats.

Jean-François Berger
ICRC editor

Rosemarie North
International Federation editor

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