Lack of funds complicates fight against avian flu

Nov 15, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – In China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, countries widely seen as ground zero in the global fight against H5N1 avian influenza, efforts to quash the virus are hampered by the lack of a key weapon: money.

Organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank have made urgent calls for a quick infusion of aid to Southeast Asia. Yet little of the promised funding has materialized, hobbling the cash-strapped countries' efforts to contain the virus.

The World Bank earlier this month offered up to $500 million to fight avian flu and hoped to have money flowing to needy nations by December, according to a Nov 4 news release. It estimated the potential cost of a human flu pandemic at $800 billion in one year.

In addition, the World Bank is seeking contributions from developing countries as well as other donors to create an ongoing funding mechanism to bolster the $500 million, starting next year, said Jim Adams, World Bank vice president for operations policy and country services.

Compensating farmers for culled poultry is one key to stemming H5N1, Adams said in the news release.

"Obviously for farmers, particularly poor rural farmers, this is their income. If they are properly compensated and paid an appropriate market price for their animals, culling programs will be successful," Adams said. "If they're not properly compensated, experience shows, they'll find another way of getting animals to market and the problem will expand."

Lack of money also endangers surveillance and vaccination efforts, Bernard Vallatt, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), told Reuters news service in a story published today.

"The problem is money. Indonesia and Vietnam are the top priorities which need global help," Vallatt said.

A senior government official in Vietnam told Reuters last week that the country needs about $150 million in international aid, but has received only $10 million to date.

Vaccination urged in Southeast Asia
Culling and vaccination efforts in Vietnam have been plagued by financial concerns, among other problems.

Officials have told farmers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to kill or sell their poultry by Nov 21, CBS reported. They will be paid only half the current market value for poultry destroyed by the deadline. Live birds found after Nov 21 will be culled with no compensation.

China will ship 45 tons of avian flu vaccine for poultry, worth $780,000, to Vietnam, CBS news reported today, but vaccine alone doesn't address all of the financial problems associated with the campaign.

Low wages for people giving the vaccinations in Vietnam are hampering the aggressive campaign, the Bangkok Post reported today. About 109 million birds have been vaccinated in Vietnam, but the country still reported outbreaks in 61 communes between Oct 1 and Nov 14, the story said.

Indonesia launches plan, seeks grants
In Indonesia, soldiers and volunteers will go door-to-door starting in the Jakarta area to find H5N1-infected poultry, the government announced yesterday, according to today's Jakarta Post.

"We have to address this problem quickly," President Susilo Bamban Yudhoyono said yesterday. "There must be an intensive campaign to make the public aware of the virus."

The FAO is assisting Indonesia with surveillance efforts, and the Jakarta Post reports today that the World Bank president has offered help to Indonesia to fund a mass cull.

"Stamping out [avian flu] would not be easy as it would need billions of rupiah," Susilo noted in his response.

The Indonesian government's avian flu plan includes searching door-to-door for infected poultry, designating people to constantly monitor the outbreaks, increasing vaccine and antiviral supplies, ordering state pharmaceutical maker PT Bio Farma to make vaccines, increasing the amount of money allocated to fight avian flu by about US $35 million next year, and seeking grants from international donors.

Chinese farmer can't recoup costs
The containment efforts in China could drastically affect farmers. A story published online today in China Daily offered an example of the impact on poultry farmers in Heishan County in hard-hit Liaoning province.

Jiang Lianfu in Yingfang village had 13,000 hens. They appeared healthy, but they were slaughtered in a regional mass cull of 6 million poultry because dead ducks were found near his farm, China Daily reported.

Jiang had spent about US $24,700 to establish his henhouse, half of it borrowed.

"I planned to pay back the loan at the end of the year and borrow more money to expand the farm," Jiang told China Daily. Instead, he received about $1.20 for each bird culled, or $15,600, not enough to cover his investment.

His family watched the cull, Jiang told the newspaper. "We just stood there and watched as the birds' necks were wrung."

See also:

World Bank news release on global avian flu program

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