$1.9 billion pledged for global avian flu battle

Jan 18, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Governments and organizations at a conference in Beijing have pledged $1.9 billion for a global fund to fight avian influenza, well above the $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion that organizers had hoped for, according to news services.

The 2-day conference yielded pledges for almost $1 billion in grants, mainly for poor countries in Southeast Asia, and about $900 million in loans, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.

"It was a conference of commitment and pledging that really showed solidarity," said David Nabarro, the United Nations coordinator for avian and pandemic influenza, as quoted by AFP.

The United States led the list of donors with a $334 million pledge, saying the money would be mainly in the form of grants and technical assistance, according to a Reuters report.

The European Union promised about $260 million, including $138 million directly from member states and the rest from the European Commission, AFP reported. Japan signed on for $159 million, and smaller sums were promised by Russia, Australia, and China.

China, which hosted the conference along with the World Bank and the European Commission, pledged $10 million, according to Reuters.

"We've got a fantastic set of pledges from poor countries as well as rich countries," AFP quoted Nabarro as saying. "Even countries that cannot put money into the funding are saying we are going to commit our people and our governments to get the results."

Jim Adams, vice president of the World Bank, said more than half of the $1.9 billion represents new commitments not included in previous aid programs, according to Reuters.

Adams said that between $100 million and $200 million of the pledged funds would go into a trust fund to be managed by the World Bank. Some of the remaining money will be managed bilaterally between donors and recipients, he said.

In a speech prepared for the conference today, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook said, "Money is not the answer to every question. But without it, little can be done."

Lee said the critical needs include reducing people's exposure to the avian flu virus, strengthening early warning systems, enhancing "rapid containment operations," building capacity to cope with a pandemic, and coordinating research and development.

The AFP report said most of the pledged funds will be used to build public awareness, strengthen outbreak detection and response, slaughter and vaccinate poultry, and compensate farmers for poultry losses.

In a video address today, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the conferees, "The amount asked for is small compared to the cost of a pandemic we are not ready for," according to the Reuters report.

The World Bank has estimated that a year-long pandemic could cost the global economy up to $800 billion, the story said.

In another speech at the conference today, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official warned that the avian flu virus could become entrenched in the Black Sea, Caucasus and Near East regions and be spread further by migratory birds coming from Africa in the spring, according to the FAO.

"FAO is concerned that with trade, the movement of people and animals and migratory birds, new countries could become infected," said FAO Deputy Director-General David Harcharik, as quoted in an agency statement.

"In Turkey, the virus has already reached the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, and there is a real risk of further spread," he added. "If it were to become rooted in the African countryside, the consequences for a continent already devastated by hunger and poverty could be truly catastrophic."

Harcharik said fighting avian flu in animals is the best way to reduce the risk of a human flu pandemic. The FAO said several hundred million dollars is needed for this purpose, but the agency had received only about $28 million so far.

See also:

Speech by Lee Jong-wook of WHO
http://www.who.int/dg/lee/speeches/2006/flumeeting_beijing/en/index.html

FAO report of Harcharik speech
http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000215/index.html

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