Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bird Flu Fight Will Cost More Than $1.9 Billion, UN Envoy Says

Bird Flu Fight Will Cost More Than $1.9 Billion, UN Envoy Says

By Jason Gale and Damien Ryan

Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The global effort to fight bird flu and prepare for a threatened pandemic will cost more than the $1.9 billion already pledged, and more support is needed in Indonesia, which is ``seriously affected'' by the virus, a United Nations envoy said.

David Nabarro, the UN's senior coordinator for avian and pandemic flu, said the money promised by donor countries and organizations at a conference in Beijing in January won't be enough to sustain programs aimed at identifying and controlling the virus in poultry, and upgrading laboratories and hospitals.

``We are just at the beginning,'' Nabarro, 57, said yesterday in an interview in Singapore, where he was attending the annual meetings of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. ``We are going to need to have a pipeline of funding for further work in the next few years both in the animal sector and also in the human sector.''

Human fatalities from the H5N1 avian influenza strain have almost tripled this year, providing more chances for the virus to mutate into a lethal pandemic form. A severe pandemic similar to the one that killed 50 million people in 1918 may cause global economic losses of as much as $2 trillion, Jim Adams, head of the World Bank's avian flu taskforce, told reporters in Singapore yesterday.

The H5N1 virus is known to have infected 246 people in 10 countries, killing 144, since 2003, the World Health Organization said on Sept. 14. Millions could die if it becomes easily transmissible between people, causing a global outbreak.

``We cannot predict how it will happen, and so we encourage communities, governments, and private entities to get prepared for a pandemic that might start anytime,'' Nabarro told reporters in Singapore yesterday.

Virus Hotbed

More than half the 66 fatalities reported this year have occurred in Indonesia, where the virus is reported to have infected at least two people a month during the past year.

Indonesian authorities have intensified efforts to control the virus during the past few months, Nabarro said. ``I am very impressed with the progress that I have seen, but I want to see greater investment not only by government but also by the international community in Indonesia.''

The World Bank is finalizing an agreement with the Indonesian government on a $15 million grant, Adams said. About $1.2 billion of the $1.9 billion promised in January has been committed, he said. At least part of the $700 million that's not yet committed may be directed at programs in Africa.

Representatives of about 100 countries will meet in Mali's capital, Bamako, later this year to discuss funding needs.

Funds for Africa

``There will be on the table a request for some increases in dedicated funds to Africa,'' Adams said in an interview. ``What we will be looking for from Bamako are some incremental commitments from donors, either from unallocated or additional funds, to fund the specific African programs that are going to emerge.''

In Africa, where H5N1 was first reported in Nigeria in February, the virus has spread to Niger, Egypt, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Djibouti.

The continent will require $760 million over the next three years to help prevent avian flu, according to a report released in June by a coalition of international governmental organizations known as the ALive initiative.

Avian flu in Africa could spread rapidly because of insufficient financial and logistical resources, weak veterinary services, lax border controls and government conflicts, the coalition said in its report.

``There is a shortage of funds in some of the countries that really are fighting an uphill struggle to control avian influenza and also to prepare for the pandemic,'' Nabarro said. ``Please make sure that Africa, that Indonesia, and that countries with great needs do manage to access the resources they require.''

To contact the reporters on this story: Jason Gale in Singapore at j.gale@bloomberg.net ; Damien Ryan in Singapore at dryan3@bloomberg.net .

Last Updated: September 17, 2006 20:29 EDT

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