On Friday, the ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) were expected to endorse a global strategy for battling bird flu in order to secure funds for vaccinating and monitoring poultry and the exchange and analysis of virus samples in affected countries, a UN official said.

The plan was drafted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

 

"It's important that we have the political commitment of the region so we can effectively invite the donors to back the programme," said Subhash Mozaria, FAO chief technical adviser.

 

Bird flu has ravaged poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, leaving at least 65 people dead, mostly in Vietnam and Thailand.

 

Tens of millions of birds have been killed to stop the spread of the disease, but officials in the region have long complained of a lack of money for testing and vaccinating poultry and for stockpiling medication.

 

Human deaths

 

Most of the human deaths have been linked to contact with sick birds. But the World Health Organisation has warned that the virus could mutate into a form that is more easily transmitted from human to human, possibly triggering a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.

 

Asean is made up of ten South
East Asian countries

Apart from the threat to human life, officials are concerned that a global pandemic could force governments to severely restrict the movement of people and goods - actions that would batter many industries.

 

Mozaria said the endorsement of the Asean ministers, meeting in the resort town of Tagaytay, about 60km south of Manila, was necessary in order to acquire $102 million in donor pledges for combating the virus.

 

Funding

 

The Rome-based FAO has said donors have pledged just $20 million so far needed to tackle bird flu and prevent a possible pandemic.

 

Mozaria said various financial institutions have indicated a willingness to fund the programme, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the US Agency for International Development and several European Union countries.

 

In December this year, donor organisations are scheduled to hold a pledging session. The FAO and the animal health agency are hoping Asean's plan to be endorsed on Friday can be implemented early next year, Mozaria said.

 

Asean comprises Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.