11/03/2005, 00.00
ASIA
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Pandemic would be a disaster for Asia's economy

China and United States are allocating billions of dollars to control spread and find cure.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A bird flu pandemic would have "enormous global costs" for the world economy, especially for Asia, a new World Bank (WB) report said.

In a study of East Asian economic performance, the World Bank identified the bird flu as a "large shadow" already affecting growth in some areas. In addition to the East Asian poultry industry, already struggling since 2003, the WB said tourism, transport and retail sectors would all suffer if a pandemic broke out.

In Vietnam and Thailand poultry stocks have already dropped by 15-20 per cent as a result of the disease and mass culling, and the number of chickens that died (from infection or culled) in the region is over 150 million—100 in Vietnam alone and another 18 in Thailand.

Already the economic outlook for the region is forecasting lower than expected growth in 2006, but things would get much worse if a pandemic erupted. Millions could die or be put under quarantine; many more would be banned from travelling.

By way of comparison, the short term effect of the SARS outbreak in 2003 was, the report says, equivalent to about 2 per cent of incomes in East Asia. It killed about 800 people.

Fighting the spread of bird flu in South-East Asia will cost at least US$ 102 million over the next two-to-three years, said Subhash Morvaria, a senior United Nations official said recently.

To cope with the situation, Vietnam and Cambodia have called on the international community to provide them with aid.

The United States is allocating some US$ 251 million to monitor and enforce controls on the disease in order to prevent it from spreading. This is part of the US$ 7.1 billion fund US President George W. Bush requested from Congress on Tuesday to aid Asia fight the bird flu, set up an emergency plan and finance vaccine research,.

China. Beijing yesterday earmarked 2 billion yuan (around US$ 250 million) to control and prevent bird flu as part of a wide-ranging strategy to curb the spread of the deadly virus. The funding was included in package endorsed by a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao. The amount represents only the central government's contribution.

Last year, Beijing set aside 275 million yuan to fight the bird flu, whilst 573 million yuan was provided by local governments.

"The government at all levels must make an effort to achieve victory over the bird flu," Mr Wen said.

The State Council called on all local governments and health authorities to stay on high alert.

Other measures include the building of an information system to report any outbreaks in a ""timely, accurate and objective" fashion, and punishments for people who hide or fail to report an outbreak.

Vietnam. Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan said today that Vietnam had been free of H5N1 viral infections in humans since August.

He said that the two people, who recently died showing bird flu-like symptoms, did not have the disease. He did not however explain what the actual cause of death was. Both victims—a 14-year-old girl and 26-year-old man—were buried before any test could be carried out on their bodies.

In Hanoi, a 25-year-old woman was rushed to hospital on Tuesday with respiratory difficulties and a slight fever, symptoms of bird flu infection. Tests are under way to see if she was infected with the H5N1 virus

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai issued a directive banning the production and sale of raw blood pudding made from poultry or livestock; he also prohibited raising poultry in urban areas.

Thailand. Thai Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan called on provincial authorities to suspend "cock fights" till December, "wherever necessary".

Cock-fighting is very popular throughout the country. It usually takes place at the end of the rainy season or the beginning of the arrival of colder weather. Cocks are highly valuable and are raised at home.

Dr. Thavat Sundracharn, head of the Communicable Disease Control Department, confirmed another case of H5N1 infection. A 50-year old woman, who lives in Bangkok, went to see her husband who works on a farm in Nonthaburi on October 23.  She helped him clean the droppings and on October 25 she got a fever. Then her husband informed her that all the chicken in the farm had died, but she only went to see the doctor on October29.

Since December 2003, Thailand has reported 20 cases of H5N1 viral infection in humans, 13 of which ended in death of the patient. (PB-WK)

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