EU, Roche sharply increase commitment to combatting bird flu at start of donors conference |

EU, Roche sharply increase commitment to combatting bird flu at start of donors conference

BEIJING – The European Union and the drug company Roche sharply increased their commitment to combatting bird flu Tuesday at an international donors conference that has taken on a new sense of urgency after the first deaths from the virus were recorded outside Asia.The EU pledged about $121 million, $20 million more than it initially announced last week to combat bird flu and the risk of a potential pandemic. The increase came after Turkey recently announced a fourth child had died from the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.Most of those who died had been in close contact with infected birds, but health officials fear the virus could mutate into a form easily transmissible among humans.The World Bank has estimated up to $1.5 billion will be needed over the next three years to tackle the threat from the disease in poor countries. As the conference opened on Tuesday in Beijing, there were hopes that donors might exceed that. The U.S. is expected to make one of the largest pledges on Wednesday.The World Health Organization said Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG has agreed to donate another 2 million courses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu to help poor countries battling the disease. Tamiflu is believed to be most effective in treating bird flu in humans.”We’re talking about a tremendous amount of money here for an issue that is clearly of global importance. The stakes are very high,” James LeDuc, a viral illness expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press before the conference opened.”Whether it’s SARS, or monkey pox, or avian influenza, or whatever the next outbreak, the capacity that we’re building is going to be very important for global health,” he said.The World Bank has said about 45 percent of the funding would be spent in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Laos – countries where H5N1 is already endemic.The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 77 people in East Asia since 2003. The deaths reported by Turkey – all children – are the first outside Asia. The WHO has only confirmed two of those cases.Margaret Chan, assistant director-general for communicable diseases at WHO, said all the warning signs of a pandemic are there and countries should not ignore them.Chan said the new Tamiflu donation will be used to help poor countries treat cases of human bird flu. Roche last year donated 3 million courses of the drug to WHO for a global stockpile that would be distributed wherever a pandemic flu strain emerged, she said.Company officials have said about 150 million treatments are expected to be produced this year.The funding conference, co-sponsored by the World Bank, European Commission and the Chinese government, follows a global bird flu coordination meeting two months ago in Geneva.Vail, Colorado

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