Experts seek $1.4bn bird flu war chest

Bird flu experts at a meeting in Beijing have said the world urgently needs to amass a war chest of up to $1.4 billion to fight the deadly virus and prepare nations should a pandemic strain emerge.

    Bird flu has spread from Asia to Europe's eastern borders

    Underscoring that urgency, Indonesia's health ministry said a toddler who died on Tuesday was being tested for bird flu, days after his 13-year-old sister died of the H5N1 virus, according to local tests. A surviving sister is also being tested.


    Turkey said on Monday a fourth young person had died of avian flu, as authorities slaughtered tens of thousands of birds to try to contain the outbreak.


    Neighbouring nations feared the virus might spread.


    "There is a significant shortfall of funds in many affected countries ... which will seriously hamper their prevention and control efforts," Qiao Zonghuai, Chinese vice-foreign minister, told the donors' conference in Beijing on Tuesday.


    "In the fight against avian influenza, no country can stay safe by looking the other way," he said.


    Bird flu has killed at least 79 people since 2003 and has now arrived at the gates of Europe and the Middle East.


    World Bank credit


    "It is going more and more towards the western part of the world,"

    Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer, FAO

    While difficult for people to catch, nearly 150 people are known to have been infected by H5N1 in six countries, killing more than half its victims, a death rate that reinforced fears about the havoc the virus could wreak if a pandemic occurs.


    "It is going more and more towards the western part of the world," Joseph Domenech, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) chief veterinary officer, told Reuters in Beijing.


    "If the mobilisation of the funds is not coming immediately, in a couple of months we'll need more money."


     The World Bank estimates that between $1.2bn and $1.4bn will be needed to prepare for and respond to outbreaks.


    The Bank has estimated that a bird flu pandemic lasting a year could cost the global economy up to $800 billion.


    A senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official told delegates the risks from a bird flu pandemic were great.


    "Timing is unpredictable and the severity is uncertain," Margaret Chan, the WHO's top pandemic expert, told the conference, attended by delegates from 89 countries and more than 20 international organisations.


    The Bank approved a $500 million line of credit last week towards the $1.2 billion target and the European Union has pledged $100 million in aid. More significant pledges are expected.


    Endemic in Asia


    Turkish prime minister told his
    people it was safe to eat chicken

    H5N1 is already endemic across parts of Asia and has been found in wild birds and poultry over a third of Turkey.


    Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, told Turkish consumers on Tuesday that it was safe to eat chicken.


    "There is no need to worry about consuming poultry and eggs that have been produced in industrial conditions," Erdogan told a gathering of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).


    "There is no advantage in harming our poultry sector which employs thousands of people. It is very important for Turkey to remain calm," he said.


    Poultry sales have plunged since the latest outbreak of avian flu in Turkey was reported in late December, although experts say chicken and eggs pose no health threat to human beings if properly cooked.


    Turkish officials said the country had recorded a total of 20 human cases, including the four deaths, in two weeks.


    "My argument is, whatever resources you put in place, compared to the possible economic loss in the event of a pandemic, is peanuts"

    Margaret Chan, the WHO's top pandemic expert

    Turkish authorities have culled around a million birds over the past two weeks to try to contain the crisis. The Agriculture Ministry had imposed a nationwide ban on the transit of poultry.


    Turkey's neighbours were also under threat, experts said.


    "The Caucasus region and Iran are countries where the usual trade movements are bringing very high risk of contamination. So the surveillance in these countries has to be intensified," the FAO's Domenech said.


    With donors and lending agencies focused on ramping up the fight against bird flu, there have been concerns that money might be drawn from other health programmes.


    "My argument is, whatever resources you put in place, compared to the possible economic loss in the event of a pandemic, is peanuts," the WHO's Chan told reporters in Beijing.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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