Nov 9, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Concluding a major conference on avian and pandemic influenza today, health officials reported a new level of international agreement on the need to confront the threat and released a list of key steps to do that.
"There's consensus. There's clarity. There's cash," said David Nabarro, the United Nations' special coordinator on avian and pandemic flu, as quoted in an Associated Press (AP) report from the meeting at the World Health Organization (WHO) offices in Geneva.
WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook echoed Nabarro in closing remarks, as published on the WHO Web site. "The international solidarity to confront these threats is clear," he said. "The urgency of acting now is felt by us all. Precise recommendations have emerged. Equally, precise offers of help and support have been put forward, by both developing and industrialized countries."
More than 600 delegates from over 100 countries agreed on the "urgent need" to assist countries affected by or at high risk for avian flu and "to identify and respond to a human pandemic the moment it emerges," the WHO said in a statement.
The preparedness steps outlined by the WHO include conducting a "global pandemic response exercise," among others. As for the cost of the campaign, the World Bank estimated it may take $1 billion over the next 3 years to combat poultry outbreaks in Asian countries already affected or at high risk.
A WHO statement outlined the preparedness measures as follows:
- Improving veterinary services, emergency preparedness plans, and control campaigns, including culling, vaccination and compensation
- Assisting countries to control avian influenza in animal populations
- Strengthening early detection and rapid response systems for animal and human influenza
- Building and strengthening laboratory capacity
- Support and training for the investigation of animal and human cases and clusters, and planning and testing rapid containment activities
- Building and testing national pandemic preparedness plans, conducting a global pandemic response exercise, strengthening the capacity of health systems, training clinicians and health managers
- Developing integrated national plans across all sectors to provide the basis for coordinated technical and financial support
- To support all of the above, factual and transparent communications, in particular risk communication, is vital.
Nabarro said the conference has already improved international coordination and will increase the energy that countries devote to the pandemic threat, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. "I think we'll be much quicker to control avian influenza as a result and if a pandemic starts there's a pretty good chance it will be smaller as a result of the work we've done in the past three days than it would have been otherwise," he said.
According to the WHO statement, the World Bank estimated that the needs of affected countries may amount to $1 billion over the next 3 years, but this doesn't count the cost of human or animal vaccine development, antiviral drugs, or compensation for farmers whose flocks are culled.
The WHO estimated it would cost another $500 million over 3 years to develop and produce a pandemic vaccine and to research new antiviral drugs, according to an AP report today. For comparison, President George W. Bush last week proposed spending $1.2 billion to buy enough doses of an experimental H5N1 vaccine for 20 million people.
The meeting supported an urgent request for $35 million to fund high-priority actions by the WHO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) over the next six months, the WHO said. That was a down payment on $80 million the three agencies need for early efforts, AFP reported.
Dr. Bernard Vallat, head of the OIE, said the top priorities are to assess and strengthen veterinary services and laboratory and surveillance capacity in affected and at-risk countries.
A financial conference for donor countries is scheduled for Jan 17 and 18 in Beijing. US delegates said they hope that better estimates of the cost of the strategy will be available by then, according to an AP report.
For contributions, the Asian Development Bank said it could provide $300 million for poorer Asian countries, on top of $170 million already earmarked, AFP reported. In addition, France pledged 10 million euros ($12 million), mainly for Africa.
WHO news release on results of Geneva meeting
Closing remarks by WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook