Wednesday, January 18, 2006

UPDATE on Avian Flu: China Takes The Lead On Bird Flu

Funds promised to fight bird flu

By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - International donors pledged $1.9 billion on Wednesday for a global fund to combat bird flu, while Iraq tested a dead teenage girl for the virus.

The funding promised at the end of an international conference in Beijing was well in excess of an initial target set by the World Bank to raise at least $1.2 billion.

Conference host China reported that a 35-year-old woman in the southwest of the country had died of bird flu. The woman, a poultry slaughterer, would be the country's sixth human death from the virus if the case is confirmed.

The World Bank has estimated that a pandemic lasting a year could cost the global economy up to $800 billion. Across the globe, millions could die if the H5N1 avian flu virus mutates just enough to pass easily among people.

"This is not charity. This is not just solidarity. This is self-defense," EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told a news conference in Beijing.

Of the $1.9 billion pledged, about $900 million would be in the form of loans, and the rest in grants, he added.
The US pledged over $300 million, the EU $250 million.

Europe saw its first deaths last week, as Turkey reported four children dead in an outbreak of 21 cases in the country. Coming on the heels of the reported outbreak in Romania, we can see that eastern and southern Europe will be a place to keep an eye on in February, traditionally the worst month for flu outbreaks. Similarly, Iraq reported a possible death from the virus.

But what's scary about the Iraqi death is that it didn't occur on a farm, but near a lake known as a refuge for migratory birds from Turkey, lending credence to the theory that Africa and South Asia will be another target of the virus, unlike past avian flu pandemics.

(Cross-posted to: Avian Flu Help)

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