Donors pledge $1.9 billion to fight bird flu, China logs new death |

Donors pledge $1.9 billion to fight bird flu, China logs new death

BEIJING – After a year of unprecedented appeals for money to cope with the Asian tsunami and the South Asia earthquake, the world dug deeper Wednesday, pledging $1.9 billion to fight bird flu and prepare for a potential pandemic.The United States alone came up with $334 million that will largely be used to help poor countries in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, where the H5N1 bird flu virus is endemic. The European Union pledged another $261 million, responding with a renewed sense of urgency after the disease killed four children in Turkey.As the two-day donors conference wrapped up in Beijing, participants were again reminded of the risk as China reported its sixth human death.”Nobody’s wishing for more tragedies or more crises, but if the world has a better ability to respond to those, I think that’s a good thing,” said Jim Adams, head of the World Bank’s bird flu task force, who said the $1.9 billion in pledges over three years was a proactive step for the international aid community, which often responds to major disasters after they happen.The World Bank had estimated $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion would be needed to prepare for a potential global pandemic and to fight bird flu, which has killed or forced the slaughter of an estimated 140 million domestic birds since it began ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in late 2003. The virus has also jumped from poultry to people, killing at least 79 people in east Asia and Turkey.Experts worry the virus could mutate into a form easily spread from person to person, possibly sparking a global pandemic that kills millions. So far, human cases have been traced to contact with sick birds.David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator on avian and human influenza, said the international outpouring of support at the conference attended by more than 100 countries showed a determination to try to avert disaster.”What we’ve seen today is that the world really does care and wants to respond effectively to the threat of avian influenza and a possible human pandemic,” he said, describing the response as “quite extraordinary.”About $1 billion of the money came in the form of grants, while the other $900 million will be distributed as loans – including $500 million from the World Bank.The U.S. pledge, the most of any single country, was mostly in the form of grants and technical assistance. Billions more will be spent over the next three years to develop vaccines and additional funding will come later for the regional stockpiling of antiviral drugs, said Nancy Powell, U.S. senior coordinator for avian influenza and infectious diseases.About $280 million was newly approved by Congress, while the remainder was moved from existing programs, including $31.3 million originally set aside for the tsunami. Powell said most of the U.S. funding would be focused on the hardest-hit countries in Southeast Asia.”It certainly puts a responsibly, that we’ve taken very seriously, to be among the leaders in the effort,” she said. “It will be used in coordination with the other donors and with the technical agencies.”Large chunks of the total $1.9 billion will go to poor countries where the H5N1 virus poses the greatest threat, including improving surveillance, rapid response and containment mechanisms should a pandemic flu strain emerge within their borders.Other money will be used for strengthening laboratories and poultry vaccination programs. The World Health Organization, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health will also receive funding.EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said the EU increased its commitment to $121 million, about $20 million more than it announced last week. In addition, he said the 25 member states pledged a combined $140 million.”Never before has humankind had a window of opportunity to prepare for the event of a pandemic before it actually happens,” he said.Meanwhile, Japan pledged $159 million and host China pitched in $10 million as Premier Wen Jiabao promised the communist government would be forthcoming with information about outbreaks.”China is ready to fully use the existing cooperation mechanisms to give countries and international organizations concerned, timely and accurate updates on the latest developments of the avian influenza epidemics,” he told donors.China was criticized for its sluggish response to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003.The conference drew more than 700 delegates and was hosted by China, the World Bank and the European Commission.Vail, Colorado

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