Donor Nations Pledge $1.85 Billion to Combat Bird Flu

BEIJING, China, January 18, 2006 (ENS) - China's Ministry of Health today announced its sixth human death from bird flu, underlining the threat as nations from around the world concluded a two day meeting here by pledging $1.85 billion to battle outbreaks of bird flu and avert a human influenza pandemic. The amount pledged overtops the $1.2 billion goal for the conference.

The government of China, the World Bank and the European Commission jointly sponsored the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza. Nearly 700 delegates representing more than 100 countries and regions and 20 international organizations attended the conference - both donor nations and affected nations are present.

European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Safety Markos Kyprianou announced the $1.9 billion pledge total at a press conference as the meeting ended. "We have covered the estimated overall financing gap of around US$1.2 billion," he said. "Nearly US$1 billion of this has been pledged in grants."

The European Union's total pledge almost US$260 million, including US$122 million from the EU and the rest pledged by EU member states.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz told the meeting in a video address from Washington today, "We need no reminders of why this pledging conference must deliver results. All countries could be affected if a pandemic occurs. All countries share a responsibility in fighting the spread of the disease, and putting human and financial resources behind the effort."

Bird flu has been spreading across the world. The H5N1 strain first infected humans in Hong Kong in 1997, causing 18 cases, including six deaths. Since mid-2003, this virus has caused the largest and most severe outbreaks in poultry on record.


The successful bird flu conference raised $1.85 billion to fight the disease. (Photo courtesy WHO)
Globally, the World Health Organization confirms 148 human cases of bird flu have been reported, including 79 deaths since December 2003 when infections in people exposed to sick birds were identified.

In the most recent outbrea, Vietnam was the country affected earliest with three deaths in 2003. To date, people have died in five additional countries - Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey - most from contact with infected birds.

Health officials fear that the H5N1 virus circulating now may mutate into a form that is easily communicable among humans, triggering a global flu pandemic.

The World Bank has conducted a study estimating the costs of pandemic flu preparedness at between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion.

"We know from experience that if the international community does not support these control measures now, the potential cost to the world will be much higher in the long-term," Wolfowitz told conference delegates.

"Past outbreaks have already cost more than $10 billion dollars in economic losses, even though governments have moved quickly to control the disease by disposing of infected poultry flocks," said Wolfowitz. "Although that is a large sum, it is small compared to the economic damage that would result if we were to fail to control the disease."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told delegates to the meeting today that the Chinese government will donate US$10 million to support the global fight against bird flu.


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (Photo courtesy Chinese Foreign Ministry)
Wen suggested to delegates that the international community should establish a cooperative global monitoring and early warning system for joint prevention and control of the disease.

"China is ready to provide personnel training to member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the neighboring countries, and conduct technical exchange with concerned countries on epidemiological survey, early warning and monitoring, laboratory testing, and clinical diagnosis and treatment," the premier said.

China is also willing to cooperate in the development of vaccine and medicine for prevention and control of bird flu, he said.

In 2005, the United States earmarked more than $50 million to help other nations control avian influenza and prepare for a possible human influenza pandemic.

In legislation signed at the end of December 2005, President Bush approved almost $280 million in additional foreign assistance to help other nations build capacity to detect and contain disease and improve animal and human health care systems.


Live poultry at a market in Hanoi, Vietnam. The H5N1 virus has devastated Asia's domestic poultry, but has not yet changed into a form transmissible to humans. (Photo courtesy FAO)
Speaking at the conference this morning, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook underscored the areas requiring urgent international and national action to fight avian influenza and prepare for a pandemic.

"Money is not the answer to every question," said Dr. Lee. "But without it, little can be done."

"Our understanding of the avian flu virus H5N1 and its role in human health is evolving all the time," Dr. Lee said. "Vigilance, surveillance, and information sharing are paramount."

"Turkey's open sharing of virus samples with researchers is resulting in unique information about the virus. The recently announced UK analysis of viral gene sequencing and future such findings will support policy decisions," the director-general said.

The speed of response is critical to success, Dr. Lee emphasized. "In Turkey, within one day, patient samples were collected, shipped, and received in the United Kingdom. The results were available within 24 hours. One hundred thousand treatment courses of oseltamivir were delivered one day after the first cases were confirmed. A team of WHO experts travelled to Turkey within one day of the request by the government."


World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook (Photo courtesy WHO)
"Keeping our populations informed is vital," he said. "We have seen how vulnerable children are to infection, as they play and sleep in close proximity to ducks and chickens. Communities need to understand what to do, and why, in the event of an outbreak. Countries that do not yet have endemic H5N1, must know what to look out for."

Each new outbreak has taught new lessons, Dr. Lee said.

"Thailand and Viet Nam provided essential information on clinical features. This expertise is shaping our advice to doctors in Turkey and neighboring countries. Rapid and thorough investigation of new cases in Indonesia has given us new clues about exposure risks."

"The outbreaks in China showed how political commitment at the highest level allows even the largest countries to scale up surveillance and response systems. Experience in Cambodia taught us that weak basic infrastructures restrict data collection and prevent the decisive action that comes from a clear picture."

On Tuesday, the Swiss based company Roche Holding AG said it will give enough of its Tamiflu flu medication to the World Health Organization to treat two million people. This donation comes in addition to the three million Tamiflu treatments Roche donated last August.

The bird flu virus could become entrenched in the Black Sea, Caucasus and Near East regions through trade and movement of people and animals and it could be further spread by migratory birds particularly coming from Africa in the spring, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.


FAO Deputy Director-General David Harcharik (Photo courtesy ENB)
“FAO is concerned that with trade, the movement of people and animals and migratory birds, new countries could become infected,” said FAO Deputy Director-General David Harcharik in his speech at the Bejing conference.

“Countries in Africa deserve special attention. In Turkey, the virus has already reached the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, and there is a real risk of further spread. If it were to become rooted in the African countryside, the consequences for a continent already devastated by hunger and poverty could be truly catastrophic,” Harcharik said.

In areas where the virus has taken hold, the movements of animals, products and people should be controlled Harcharik said. He urged all countries along migratory bird routes to be highly vigilant and be prepared for a further spread of the disease in animals.

“Fighting the avian influenza virus in animals is the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce the likelihood of H5N1 mutating or reassorting to cause a human flu pandemic,” Harcharik said. “Containing bird flu in domestic animals – mostly chickens and ducks - will significantly reduce the risk to humans. Avian influenza should not only be considered as a human health issue, but as a human and animal health issue.”