Donors pledge $406 million to fight avian flu

Dec 7, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – International donors at this week's New Delhi conference on avian and pandemic influenza pledged about $406 million, including $195 million from the United States, to fight H5N1 avian flu, according to news reports.

The latest pledges will bring the total promised by donors and multilateral development banks (MDBs) in the past 2 years to about $2.7 billion. A report released last week by the United Nations and the World Bank said a total of about $2.3 billion was pledged at conferences in Beijing in January 2006 and in Bamako, Mali, in December 2006.

When the New Delhi conference opened Dec 4, the World Bank predicted a need for $1.2 billion to help countries battle avian flu over the next 2 to 3 years, according to a Dec 6 report by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Peter Harrold, acting vice president of the World Bank, called the new pledges a "very encouraging response," AFP reported. "There is still a gap, but this is more than what we had anticipated," he said.

The United States had previously pledged $434 million to the avian flu fight. In New Delhi, US officials promised another $195 million, raising the total to $629 million, according to a Dec 6 Reuters report.

More than $1 billion paid out
Of the $2.3 billion previously pledged for the avian flu battle, $1.7 billion (72%) has been committed and more than $1 billion (43%) has been paid out, according to the UN–World Bank report, which was released Nov 29 in advance of the conference. About $600 million remained uncommitted as of the end of June.

The report says the original $2.3 billion included $1.326 billion in grants from various donors, including the European Commission, and $983 million from MDBs, mostly in loans.

Of the grant money, all but $57 million had been committed by the end of June, and 74% of the committed funds have been paid out, the report says. Of the committed funds, $282 million is going to countries, $433 million to international organizations, $206 million to regional organizations, and $333 million to other recipients.

More than half of the mostly loan money pledged by MDBs—$592 million out of $983 million—had not yet been committed as of the end of June, according to the report. The reasons, it says, include the time it takes to prepare "integrated country programs" and the preference of developing countries to use grants rather than loans to finance their integrated programs.

Fifty-six percent of the country-specific money committed so far is going to East Asia and South Asia, the report states. Another 24% is for Europe and Central Asia, with countries in Africa and the Middle East getting 18%. Latin America and the Caribbean are receiving only 2%.

This week's meeting, called the New Delhi International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, drew more than 600 officials from over 100 countries and a number of international organizations, according to AFP.

Long-term efforts needed
A major theme of the conference, as well as of the UN-World Bank report, was the need to shift from focusing on emergency responses to avian flu to developing medium- and long-term strategies to deal with H5N1 and the threat of a human flu pandemic, according to news reports.

The UN report says many countries have improved their responses to avian flu in the past year, but the disease remains entrenched in several countries and the threat of a pandemic is the same now as it was in mid 2005, when it became a high-profile issue.

John E. Lange, who headed the US delegation to the conference, said in a Dec 4 speech there, "While we have made progress in the years since the virus first appeared, we now need to shift some of our efforts from the 'emergency' phase of identifying and dealing with avian outbreaks to a greater emphasis on long-term capacity-building to improve both animal and human health systems as they relate to the H5N1 avian influenza virus and other emerging and reemerging infectious and zoonotic diseases."

Lange also touched on the dispute with Indonesia over the sharing of H5N1 virus samples, though he didn't name the country. "We call on all countries to share virus samples freely, without encumbrances, for the benefit of global health," he said.

Maintaining that H5N1 isolates provided by developing countries are used to make vaccines those countries can't afford, Indonesia has shared very few samples with the World Health Organization over the past year.

India praised for compensation program
In other news from the conference, India was praised for its "swift, fair and efficient" compensation of poultry owners whose birds were culled because of outbreaks in 2006 and 2007, according to a Dec 5 report from the Times of India.

David Nabbaro, the UN's senior influenza coordinator, was quoted as saying, "India's philosophy to compensate quickly and fairly at the district level is commendable. That's why farmers came out in the open and declared when their birds died."

Indian Health Minister A. Ramadoss said the government paid about $19.5 million in compensation in 2006 and $2.2 million in 2007, according to the Times. Indian officials said the government paid poultry owners the market value of their birds.

The UN–World Bank report said that in a survey, 66% of countries reported having prepared plans for compensating poultry owners for culled birds, but legislation and administrative procedures lag behind.

Other findings cited in the report:

  • 144 countries have prepared an avian flu plan, a pandemic plan, or an integrated plan for both threats
  • 27% of countries said they have no capacity to detect and confirm human H5n1 cases
  • 41% of countries have tested pandemic plans in simulation exercises
  • 50% of countries have done some planning for maintaining their infrastructure during a pandemic

At the end of the conference, the Indian government released a suggested planning template for countries to use in preparing for avian and pandemic flu. The "Vision and Road Map" includes 21 goals that India proposes countries try to accomplish by the end of 2008.

See also:

12-page synopsis of UN–World Bank report
http://www.undg.org/docs/8097/english%20pn.pdf

Full text of 91-page UN–World Bank report
http://www.undg.org/docs/8097/UN-WB%20AHI%20Progress%20Report%20final%20PRINT.pdf

Transcript of speech by John E. Lange
http://www.state.gov/g/avianflu/96208.htm

India's proposed "Vision and Road Map" for preparedness
http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=33862

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