Donors meeting nets funds for avian flu fight

Oct 27, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – A group of international donors who met yesterday in the final session of an avian influenza conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, pledged more support for avian and pandemic flu preparedness and prevention, led by $320 million from the United States.

Paula Dobriansky, the US State Department's undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, said in an Oct 25 statement that the new $320 million pledge brings the total US support for avian and pandemic flu assistance to $949 million. She announced the pledge at the Sixth International Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza.

The World Bank, in a press release today, did not name a total pledge amount, but noted that countries had an opportunity at the meeting to pledge additional support. Japan's Kyodo News Service said the total from the meeting was $350 million, including a pledge of $24 million from Japan, the second largest amount behind the United States.

Olga Jonas, the World Bank's influenza coordinator, said in the statement, "At this point, political commitment on response and preparedness is as important as funding.

The $350 million total from the donor's conference is well below the $500 million that United Nations officials had asked countries to pledge to help the world battle avian influenza and make pandemic preparations, according to previous reports. The amount pledged at this year's donor conference is also less than the $406 million raised at last year's conference in New Delhi.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, had indicated earlier that it would not pledge an additional amount, because it said half of the funds had not yet been spent, according to an Oct 25 report from Reuters.

The United Nations (UN) and the World Bank, in a recent progress report, expressed concern about a growing funding gap between what's needed to control and prevent avian flu and the amount donors are pledging. The report, which was published before the meeting in Egypt was held, said donors have pledged $2.7 billion, of which $2 billion has been committed. Of that total, $1.5 billion has been disbursed, of which 59% was cash or loans and 41% was in-kind contributions. Declines in funding threaten the sustainability of control and planning investments that have already been made, the report said.

African countries find challenges, success
The international conference drew representatives from more than 100 nations and 20 regional and international organizations, according to the State Department press release. Sessions included a review of progress, sharing of best practices, and discussion of the threat avian flu virus poses to the global community.

Representatives from West Africa said their countries were vulnerable to the virus, because of porous borders, weak infrastructure, and poverty, Reuters reported today.

Anna Nyamekye, Ghana's deputy agriculture minister, told the conference about the difficulty in monitoring the movement of people and animals across unapproved routes. "Nigeria still has it [avian influenza in poultry], Togo, our direct neighbor still has it, and on our north we are bordered by Burkina Faso, which also has it," she told Reuters. "We are hemmed in."

However, some West African countries have had success controlling outbreaks quickly by offering farmers compensation for dead or culled poultry. Junaidu Maina, Nigeria's chief veterinary officer, told Reuters that since 2006 the country has culled 1.3 million birds and paid $5.4 million in compensation.

Nyamekye said Ghana also has a compensation program that provides farmers financial incentives to abide by national biosecurity standards.

UN officials warn against flu fatigue
David Nabarro, the UN's influenza coordinator, warned against complacency in the fight against avian influenza, according to a report today from Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "Things are a lot better now than they were when we started this work in 2005, but they are not good enough," he said. "We are not sufficiently prepared to properly bring a pandemic under control quickly."

Nabarro pointed to difficulties in getting government departments, other than health ministries, to work on pandemic prevention and preparedness, and he called for greater international cooperation.

Piers E. Merrick, who helps coordinate the World Bank's avian flu response in the East Asian and Pacific regions, said in the statement that despite some success in controlling the spread of H5N1, the disease represents the persistent threat of zoonotic diseases. "Addressing many of these infections will require a more sophisticated and comprehensive long-term action plan" he said.

Next year's international avian flu conference and donors meeting will be held in Vietnam, according to a report today in The Guardian, a British newspaper.

See also:

Oct 27 State Department press release

Oct 27 World Bank press release

Oct 17 CIDRAP News story "World Bank says pandemic flu could cost $3 trillion"

Oct 23 CIDRAP News story "UN: Pandemic risk remains despite progress on H5N1"

Oct 27 IRIN report

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