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21/06/10 19:07
Fighting bird flu in poultry across the world and preparing for a human influenza pandemic will cost up to $1 billion over the next three years, the World Bank said Wednesday, during the final day of a three-day conference on bird flu in Geneva, reports The Associated Press.

That cost does not include the stockpiling of antiviral drugs and human flu vaccines, Fadia Saadah of the World Bank told the global meeting on how to contain the disease. "Let me stress that these are indicative figures; if tomorrow one of these countries (at risk) or a new country is affected, these figures will change," Saadah said. She added that if the bird flu virus started to mutate and transmit from human to human, "all of these figures will be multiplied by several orders of magnitude."

Some 90 percent of the money would be needed by individual countries, with the remainder used by agencies like the World Health Organization that are fighting the disease, Saadah said. She said the costs were based on initial, rough estimates to help the world move ahead as fast as possible in the fight against the disease. The World Bank figure is based on the needs of countries already affected by the current outbreak of bird flu and those at high risk of contracting the disease.

The Bank said it was adding $300 million to the $170 million it had already made available to tackle the outbreak of the H5N1 strain of the virus in birds. Poorer countries and regional projects will get grants from the funds made available, while activities in better off nations will be financed by loans, the Bank said. The money would be used for a variety of activities, ranging from strengthening early disease detection systems and improving laboratories to funding compensation programs for poultry farmers and a regional stockpile of flu drugs.

So far, $60 million has been earmarked for regional projects. Nobody has kept track of exactly how much has been spent on trying to eliminate H5N1 from poultry stocks. However, the World Bank estimates that on the basis of current programs and pledges, more money will be spent on the stockpiling of flu drugs than on efforts to control the disease in poultry.

Agence France Presse and The Jakarta Post further report that the World Bank has offered financial and other assistance to Indonesia to help it battle bird flu which has claimed at least five lives in the country, a Bank spokesman said Wednesday. World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz spoke with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by telephone Saturday and "conveyed his full support" in helping Indonesia combat the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus, said Mohamad Al-Arief. "The World Bank is making available up to $500 million of its own financing to help countries address the avian flu worldwide," the spokesman said. Indonesia could request part of these funds as well as technical assistance, he said. "The World Bank would like to make sure that financing is not a constraint for countries fighting the avian flu," Al-Arief said.

Reuters writes that during the Geneva meeting, highlighting the threat of the virus, China said an outbreak there announced last week had now spread to 18 townships, making controlling the disease that much harder. Vietnam, the country hardest hit by bird flu, reported its 42nd death from the disease on Tuesday and a senior official said it needed $150 million in aid to fight the virus in poultry and humans over the next five years.

Swiss drug maker Roche has also agreed to give Vietnam the right to make the anti-viral medicine Tamiflu and production could start early next year, state radio said.

African countries, believed by many experts to be the next frontline in the fight against bird flu appealed for more funds to shore up their defenses. "Africa is the most exposed but least prepared for the bird flu virus," Kenyan government delegate Rachel Arungah said in Geneva. While governments prepare for a possible pandemic, major international banks based in the London are also gearing up, including preparing contingency plans and looking at buying supplies of anti-flu drugs.

The Associated Press also notes that experts were divided Tuesday over whether the deadly bird flu strain ravaging farms in parts of Asia can be wiped out in poultry. Veterinary experts at the UN΄s agriculture agency said that given enough money, the virus can be eliminated from the global poultry population within a year. However, a bird specialist at the World Organization for Animal Health said the close contact between poultry and wild birds in Asia means the most that can be hoped for is to contain the virus until it mutates to a milder form and disappears, or develops into a human strain capable of spreading globally.

Also reporting on the Bank΄s economic projections of an avian influenza pandemic are: Le Progres, Ouest France (France); The Independent (UK); Montreal Gazette; The San Francisco Chronicle, and USA Today. ARD Television (Germany), BBC Radio 24, China Television, and Radio Australia also report on the Bank΄s participation in the avian flu conference in the Geneva.