Global fund to tackle bird flu

The World Bank vice president, Jim Adams, says that officials from all over the world will meet in Geneva in early November to discuss setting up a global fund to tackle the threat of the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus.

Adams, vice president for operations policy and country services, says the meeting from November 7 to November 9, will attempt to coordinate a global response to the H5N1 strain and identify shortcomings in veterinary and health systems.

Adams says it is the intention to be prepared to more aggressively to raise money to deal with those shortcomings.

He says the trust fund will require initial donations of between $300 to $500 million to help countries set up programs to deal with the risk of a pandemic of bird flu, which experts fear could eventually mutate enough to become transmissible among humans.

According to the World Health Organisation the H5N1 strain has already infected 121 people in four Asian countries and killed over 60 of them.

Adams said governments and organisations have become more aware of the threat as the virus has spread to the eastern edge of Europe from Asia.

Now he says everyone has accepted that over time this is going to become a global issue and in that context efforts have been ratcheted up a level.

Adams says the World Bank is also preparing its own response to bird flu through a financing mechanism that any country can seek access to.

He says countries would receive their financial help through grant handouts rather than loans.

According to an internal World Bank document released this week, the costs of Avian flu outbreaks in Southeast Asia have not as yet had a major economic impact, but have significantly hurt its poultry industry.

In Vietnam alone, about 44 million birds or 17 percent of its poultry were culled at an estimated cost of $120 million, or 0.3 percent of gross domestic product, says the bank.

The World Bank says the most direct economic impact of an avian flu pandemic would be through a fall in labour productivity.

Other long-term affects would materialise as the increased costs of preventing and treating the disease reduced savings and investments.

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