U.N. official says $1.5 billion needed to fight bird flu and prepare for possible human pandemic

Thursday, January 12th 2006, 9:58 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Poor countries and international organizations need about $1.5 billion to help fight bird flu and prepare for a possible pandemic in humans, a senior U.N. official said.

Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator on avian and human influenza, initially expressed confidence that countries would give more than $1 billion at next week's first international donors conference to finance efforts to combat the disease. But he later hedged his expectations for the Jan. 17-18 meeting in Beijing, co-sponsored by the Chinese government, the World Bank and the European Commission.

Nabarro said Wednesday he was expecting ``a significant contribution from the United States'' and donations from ``some unconventional countries,'' which he refused to identify.

``Fingers-crossed, it's going to be a good-sized pledge,'' Nabarro said. ``I think most countries are aware of the seriousness and the need to move money to poor countries.''

Nabarro stressed the $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion needed now was ``a beginning,'' based on estimates from the World Bank and others, and that much more would be needed in the case of a pandemic.

Developing countries need more than $1 billion of that to cope with the disease and prepare for any possible pandemic, he said. International institutions also require funds, especially the World Health Organization, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, he said.

``I'm sad to say we have not had a significant influx of cash for bird flu over the last two years since we've really started to get worried about it,'' Nabarro told a news conference.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has ravaged flocks in at least 16 countries, mostly in eastern Asia, since late 2003 and has started spreading to eastern Europe. The World Health Organization has confirmed 78 human deaths from the disease worldwide.

Health experts fear the virus could spawn a more potent strain easily passed between people and trigger a pandemic capable of killing millions.

Nabarro said several countries had intensified efforts recently to fight the disease.

He praised Turkey for taking ``intense and competent action'' to contain a fast-moving outbreak that has killed at least two children and infected at least 13 other people so far this year.

``I am saying that the recent activities by Turkey's Ministry of Agriculture, particularly the culling and communication work, is good,'' Nabarro said.

He also singled out Vietnam _ the worst-hit nation _ for making ``great steps forward'' by putting a deputy prime minister in charge of battling the disease, initiating a bird immunization program and testing its preparedness for a pandemic.

And he said China was stepping up its defenses by detecting outbreaks early, destroying birds in affected areas and improving the way poultry is handled.

``We cannot afford to be in any way complacent,'' Nabarro said. ``The fact that there are human cases of bird flu being reported at quite regular intervals now means that the disease is still quite serious.''