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Bird flu: Annan pleads for urgent aid to poor countries, especially in Africa

Bird flu: Annan pleads for urgent aid to poor countries, especially in Africa

Kofi Annan
Deeply concerned by the rapid spread of bird flu, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today made an impassioned plea for greater funding beyond the $1.9 billion already pledged to help poor countries, above all in Africa, to fight a disease that in a worst case scenario could mutate into a deadly human pandemic.

Since the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza in Beijing in January, “vast and urgent needs have emerged… which makes it yet more imperative to convert the pledges into cash quickly,” Mr. Annan said in a statement.

“Bearing in mind the growing challenges faced by poor countries in all regions, donors will have to be prepared to mobilize additional resources for urgent as well as long-term needs. And we must work together to create flexible mechanisms that bring funds and expertise more rapidly to where they are needed, particularly for culling and compensation,” he added.

Mr. Annan noted that with the rapid spread of the H5N1 virus from Asia into Europe, the Middle East and Africa, both the disease, and the measures needed to control it, will increase the vulnerability of millions of families, most of them in poor countries.

“We know that H5N1 avian influenza can be controlled if outbreaks are identified quickly, infected animals are culled, and movement and marketing of poultry are stopped in outbreak areas,” he said.

“But such measures can succeed only if communities and animal health authorities work together, if we keep the public informed about risks and the means to reduce them, if we monitor progress carefully, and if we provide swift and adequate financial compensation for culled birds,” he added of the need to encourage poor farmers and families to report the disease and take the necessary steps.

Stressing how absolutely dependent some nations are on outside assistance to do their part and protect their people, he said that nowhere was this clearer that in Africa, from where he has just returned after a two-week mission.

“As I learned at first hand, there is an immediate and desperate need for expertise, funds, transport and equipment. With H5N1 cases now confirmed in four African countries, that need grows more pressing every day,” he declared. “Avian influenza threatens the entire world. It knows no borders. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that all countries – rich and poor – are protected and prepared. The United Nations family will do all it can to help ensure that this happens.”

Since December 2003 the H5N1 virus is known to have infected 186 people, of whom 105 have died. According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), it remains an animal pandemic that very rarely infects humans, and there is no sign that it is changing in order to spread more easily from animal to human or from human to human.

But the great concern is that the virus could mutate into a type that spreads easily from person to person. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic that broke out in 1918 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide by the time it had run its course two years later.