Nations Pledge $1.9 Billion to Fight Bird Flu

BEIJING— Responding to the global threat of bird flu, more than 30 countries today pledged a total of $1.9 billion to fight a possible pandemic. The support, announced here at the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza, far exceeds the $1.5 billion expected, according to a statement issued by European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection Markos Kyprianou.

The conference was co-sponsored by the World Bank, the European Commission, and the Chinese government. Participants focused on the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which has decimated poultry flocks in Asia and has now spread across Eurasia to Turkey (ScienceNOW 9 January). Since late 2003, the virus has killed 79 of the 148 humans it has infected. Experts project H5N1 could kill between 2 million and 7 million people if it acquires the ability to pass easily among humans. The World Bank estimates that a pandemic lasting a year could cost the global economy as much as $800 billion.

Among the main donors, the World Bank pledged $468 million, the United States $334 million, and the European Union $260 million. Japan will donate $159 million, with China adding $10 million. The donors have been "extremely generous" in pledging so much money with such short notice, says James Adams, vice president of the World Bank.

Most of the money will be doled out as grants and loans. Nearly $1 billion in grants will be used to meet urgent needs in Southeast Asia, where the disease is endemic, and other regions at risk, especially Africa. The remaining $900 million will be disbursed as loans, for example, to compensate farmers who lose animals to illness or culling. Loans will also be used to help countries stockpile antiviral drugs, enhance animal and human health surveillance systems, develop preparedness plans, and support vaccine research. To apply for the money, nations must send proposals to a committee composed of members from the World Bank and donor nations, says Adams.

Jeffery Gutman, the World Bank's regional vice president for East Asia and the Pacific, says the conference is "extremely significant in understanding what needs to be done at the country level, the regional level, and global level in bird flu prevention."

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