Bush wants $7bn to fight bird flu

U.S. president George Bush has called on Congress to approve $7.1 billion in emergency spending to pay for a strategy to prepare America for the danger of a pandemic bird flu outbreak.

This includes almost $3 billion for the manufacture new vaccines.

In language which almost echoed his justification for the war in Iraq, he said nobody knew when or where a deadly strain of influenza would strike, but history shows there is reason to be concerned and at some point, there is likely to be another pandemic.

Mr Bush in singling out the avian flu virus, said that if the virus were to develop the capacity for 'sustained human-to-human transmission, it could spread quickly across the globe', and that a pandemic unlike other natural disasters, 'can continue spreading destruction in repeated waves that can last for a year or more'.

Following the debacle over the handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Mr Bush appears to be attempting to reassure Americans that he is doing everything to prepare for an influenza pandemic.

In speaking to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, he said his responsibility as President was to protect the American people, adding that the U.S. must be prepared to detect outbreaks anywhere in the world, stockpile vaccines and antiviral drugs, and be ready to respond at federal, state and local levels in the event a pandemic reaches the U.S.

According to Mr Bush since he announced an international pandemic detection system, at the UN in September, 88 countries and 9 international organizations have joined the effort.

He urged all nations to act before a pandemic struck, saying no nation can afford to ignore the threat, and every nation has responsibilities to detect and stop its spread.

The $7.1 billion he is demanding in emergency spending will pay for the strategy, and includes $1.2 billion to buy enough vaccine against the current strain of bird flu to protect 20 million Americans, and $1 billion to stockpile more antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, that lessen the severity of flu symptoms.

$2.8 billion would be spent developing cell-culture technology so that the U.S. might be able to produce “enough vaccine” for every American within six months of a pandemic striking.

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