Despite significant progress in the past year to combat the global spread of deadly bird flu, it remains a very real threat particularly in Africa, the United Nations coordinator for response to the disease said today, estimating that up to $1.5 billion in international assistance is needed worldwide over the next two to three years for preventive measures.
Dr. David Nabarro, the Senior UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, also said that a high-level meeting in Bamako, Mali from 6-8 December to discuss bird flu, would call for more donor funds for African countries to fight the disease and its H5N1 virus, which experts fear could mutate and pass from person to person unleashing a deadly human pandemic.
“Perhaps it’s the continuing problems faced by African countries in getting themselves more ready to deal with the outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza and to be prepared for its consequences that led to the decision by the African Union and the European Commission and the Government of Mali to host [the meeting]… in Bamako next week,” Dr. Nabarro told reporters in New York.
“And the reason why in Bamako we’re going to be talking with donors again and looking for more money is that the financial needs, particularly of African nations, have not been fully met [and] much of that money that was committed in Beijing was for Asia,” he added, referring to an international conference in January that pledged almost $2 billion.
Dr. Nabarro acknowledged that much progress has been made over the last year in combating the disease, but he warned against complacency, and said up to $1.5 billion was still needed over the next few years to fight bird flu, although this figure could change.
“We’ve done… a very careful analysis, the World Bank and the UN system of what’s needed in the countries, what’s needed by international agencies in the UN system and their partners, what’s needed by the World Organization for Animal Health, and we have come to a figure of between $1.3 and $1.5 billion dollars… over the next two to three years… an amount of between half a billion and three quarters of a billion dollars a year continued international assistance to help countries to maintain this effort,” he said.
“I am delighted with the level of effort that countries have shown during the last 12 months in particular on the avian influenza… but I’m afraid that the danger is still very much there. We still have highly pathogenic H5N1 virus moving around in Asia and also in the Middle East and in Africa, and we still have to be prepared for human pandemic as a result of this virus or another influenza virus.”
Although well over 200 million birds have died worldwide from either the virus or preventive culling, there have so far been only around 260 human cases, 150 or so of these being fatal, since the current outbreak started in South East Asia in December 2003, and these have been ascribed to contact with infected birds.