19 January 2006
Confirmed Human Deaths from Bird Flu Worldwide Reach 80
Nearly $2 billion pledged at Beijing meeting for international campaign
By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington – Confirmation of the death of a Chinese poultry worker due to avian influenza January 19 pushes the world total of human fatalities from that disease to 80, just as international donors committed almost $2 billion to the worldwide campaign to fight the disease and prevent a human flu pandemic.
A World Health Organization (WHO) announcement confirms the findings of Chinese health officials that a 35-year-old woman who had been working at culling infected birds died January 11, eight days after the appearance of her first symptoms.
The news comes the day after the end of an international pledging conference on avian and pandemic influenza at which nations committed to providing $1.9 billion to resource-poor nations that are combating or vulnerable to bird flu. (See related article.)
Just a week earlier, the United Nations’ coordinator for avian and human influenza, David Nabarro, had predicted a pledge total in the range of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.
Nabarro called the outcome of the January 17-18 Beijing meeting, “quite extraordinary,” according to the U.N. News Center.
“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.
The disease started more than two years ago in Southeast Asia and has become the greatest outbreak of its kind with the appearance of the highly pathogenic avian influenza strain in 13 nations from Asia to Europe.
So far, almost 150 humans also have been afflicted with the disease, which had infected humans only rarely before the outbreak began in December 2003. In virtually all cases, people have acquired the disease after contact with sick birds.
Health officials warn that if the disease becomes contagious among humans and is passed through coughing or sneezing, a global pandemic influenza could emerge with the possibility for millions of deaths and widespread social and economic upheaval.
The United States offered a $334 million pledge at the Beijing conference, the largest amount committed by any single nation. That figure includes $54 million originally earmarked in 2005, and another $280 million approved in a 2006 budget bill.
“Resources will be used to assist countries with national preparedness plans,” said a statement from the White House, “to improve surveillance and response systems, to train local rapid-response teams and medical personnel, and to support public awareness campaigns to limit practices that contribute to the spread of the avian influenza virus.”
The European Union and its member nations are putting more than $250 million into an international fund that will be distributed as grants, loans and technical assistance.
“The investments we make now, to prevent and control further spread of the virus, are investments in long-term development,” said Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, a co-sponsor of the Beijing meeting.
“They will help countries better protect themselves against future threats of pandemic,” he added, “and prevent the unraveling of their hard-won economic and social gains.”
The director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations echoed that message when he warned the conference about the potential entrenchment of avian influenza in the Black Sea, Caucasus and Near East regions.
David Harcharik said the movement of people, goods and migratory birds could easily transport the virus into Africa, which so far has remained unaffected.
“If it were to become rooted in the African countryside,” Harcharik said, “the consequences for a continent already devastated by hunger and poverty could be truly catastrophic.”
“Vigilance, surveillance and information sharing are paramount,” said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, WHO director-general, in his address to the pledging conference, citing action in Turkey as an example of a methodical response.
Since the disease was confirmed in Turkey in early January, health officials have given tissue samples from patients to international laboratories. This gives researchers a chance to learn more about the virus, knowledge that may help prevent a pandemic.
For additional information on the disease and effort 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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