01/17/2006, 00.00

Bird flu: more than 1.5 billion dollars needed to stem infection

A donors' conference has opened in Beijing for prevention and care above all in poor Asian countries. There are new deaths in Indonesia and Turkey and a suspected case in Jerusalem.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – An international donors' meeting about avian and human influenza opened today in Beijing; the UN is asking for 1.5 billion dollars to fight the infection. Meanwhile, deaths continue to occur: new fatalities were confirmed in Indonesia and Turkey. And a farmer has been hospitalized in Jerusalem.

The conference, organised by China, the European Union and the World Bank, aims to bring together and coordinate economic aid to poor states to fight the disease, aid already pledged at a conference in Geneva in November 2005. Participants, who hail from 89 states and 25 international organizations, admit that bird flu is a pressing concern for the whole world and significant aid for poorer states is needed. The UN is calling for 1.5 billion US dollars, especially for Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Thailand, where the virus seems to be endemic, to improve the health situation and veterinary checks. The World Bank approved 500 million in funds and the EU promised 100 million. Indonesia is asking for 500 million dollars to compensate farmers and to cull chickens to avoid the spread of infection. The pharmaceutical company Roche has put 50 million doses of Tamiflu at the disposal of the World Health Organisation: this is enough for five million people.

"We live on the same planet and our destinies are interconnected," China's vice foreign minister, Qiao Zonghuai, said in his opening address. "In the fight versus avian influenza, no country can stay safe. We have a saying in China: 'When the nest is overturned, no egg stays unbroken'… But there is a significant shortfall of funds in many affected countries."

Juergen Voegele, a member of the World Bank's avian influenza task force, said: "People were under the impression that the human cases of avian influenza were confined to Asia. Now people are beginning to wake up."

WHO spokesman Iain Simpson said: "One of the urgent things that's needed simply is money because without money it's not possible for countries to prepare for the arrival of a pandemic and to prevent that." European Union external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said it was better to spend now on controlling bird flu than to have to spend much more in a human pandemic.

The persistent fear is that the virus will mutate into a form that is easily transmissible between humans and spark a global pandemic. The World Bank has estimated that the pandemic could cost US0 billion and that world economic growth will drop by 2%.

Since December 2003, when the disease reappeared in Asia, 79 people have been killed and 150 infected – the majority of them in Vietnam.

China. In 2005, there were 32 infectious outbreaks among birds of 13 provinces;

154,600 died and 22,571,200 were culled. The government paid farmers compensation to make up for the loss of 100 million yuan (12.2 million dollars) in 2004 and another 200 million (24.2 million dollars) in 2005.

Hong Kong. The importation of 30,000 chickens per day is allowed, coming from monitored and vaccinated farms. For the last two days before the Lunar New Year, the importation of between 50,000 and 70,000 birds per day will be conceded.

Indonesia. The thirteenth victim of bird flu died on 14 January in Java: a 13-year-old girl.

Israel. A Palestinian farmer was admitted to hospital yesterday with symptoms of the disease. The results of testing are expected; tests were also carried out on dead chickens on his farm.

Turkey. The fourth human death has been confirmed. The 13-year-old girl died on 15 January in the eastern city of Van although initial tests had yielded negative results. Testing is under way on other sick children in Istanbul. Around 30 cases of infection are official and at least 932,000 chickens have been culled.

Iran. All eyes are on the border with Turkey. Anti-flu vaccines are being distributed. It has been "advised" to cull birds in small domestic breeding farms.

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See also
Bird flu hits Asia again, from China and India to Egypt
Bird flu: fear of human-to-human transmission haunts Indonesia
Alarm bells sound in the West but the frontline against the bird flu is in Asia
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Bird flu reaches Istanbul