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Homeland Security

13 January 2006

Nations Convene To Mobilize Pandemic Flu Preparedness

International pledging conference in Beijing seeks to raise $1 billion

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza convenes in Beijing on January 17-18, with a goal of winning commitments of $1 billion or more to help combat outbreaks of bird flu and avert the emergence of a human influenza pandemic.

The government of China, the World Bank and the European Commission are jointly sponsoring the meeting; donor nations and affected nations are attending.

The World Bank has conducted a study estimating the costs of preparedness at between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion.

In 2005, the United States earmarked more than $50 million to help other nations control avian influenza and prepare for a possible human influenza pandemic.

In legislation signed at the end of December 2005, President Bush approved almost $280 million in additional foreign assistance to help other nations build capacity to detect and contain disease and improve animal and human health care systems. (See related article.)

A U.S. delegation will attend the Beijing meeting.

U.N. Coordinator for Avian Influenza David Nabarro said it is a “positive development” that the United States has pledged a “pretty significant appropriation for the international aspects of influenza.”

Speaking at a U.N. headquarters briefing January 11, Nabarro said, “When the United States takes the lead on an issue, the rest of the world certainly sits up and takes notice.”

Nabarro predicted the Beijing meeting would end with donor pledges in excess of $1 billion, but he also said fund raising will have to continue.

“I know the costs will go up,” he said, if a full blown human influenza pandemic is spawned by the animal disease that has reached epidemic proportions across Southeast Asia in the last two years.

The strain of avian influenza has made at least 150 people sick over the last two years, killing 78, according to the most current accounting from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Virtually all those people were infected through some contact with infected birds. International health officials fear that this virulent form of bird flu – a strain known as H5N1 – will change to become contagious among humans, making conditions right for pandemic.

RAPID PROGRESS

A human pandemic could cost millions of lives and produce enormous social and economic upheaval, and that is what has made international policymakers intensify their focus on the issue over the last several months.

President Bush urged high-level attention to pandemic preparedness during a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2005, and shortly after formed an International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which now has more than 100 member nations. (See related article.)

At his January 11 briefing, Nabarro said he has seen much activity since he stepped into the position in late September 2005.

“Vietnam has made great steps forward in tackling avian influenza,” Nabarro said. Vietnam is one of the most severely affected nations, having experienced more human deaths – 42 – than any other single nation.

Nabarro also praised China’s progress in taking action against avian influenza in animals and in agricultural settings and the possibility of pandemic in human populations.

Preparedness activities are also getting attention in what Nabarro described as “fragile nations” with few resources.

For more information on the disease and efforts to combat it, see Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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