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International donors pledge $475 million to fight bird flu at UN-backed conference

International donors pledge $475 million to fight bird flu at UN-backed conference

The International donor community today pledged $475 million to fight bird flu after a senior United Nations official warned them that the virus, with its possible mutation into a deadly human pandemic, remains a potent threat around the world.

The pledges came at the end of a major three-day donor conference in Bamako, Mali, during which UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller said greater transparency and data sharing were critical in combating the disease.

At the same he called on donors to make Africa “a top priority” for resources and technical aid.

“Failure by any one country to contain the disease could lead to rapid re-infection in many more countries. One weak link can lead to a domino effect, undoing all the good that we have achieved so far. Now is no time for complacency,” he said.

Senior UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza David Nabarro said last month $1.5 billion is needed worldwide over the next two to three years for preventive measures.

Although well over 200 million birds have died worldwide from either the H5N1 flu virus or preventive culling, there have so far been only 258 human cases, 154 of them fatal, since the current outbreak started in South East Asia in December 2003, and these have been ascribed to contact with infected birds.

But experts fear the virus could mutate, gaining the ability to pass from person to person and, in a worst case scenario, unleash a deadly human pandemic. 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.

FAO says winning the battle against the virus demands a long-term vision with more surveillance as well as stronger emphasis on hygiene and movement control throughout the animal production and marketing chain.