Another bird flu death as $1 billion plan revealed to fight virus

The announcement by Health experts of a $1 billion plan to halt the spread of bird flu came at the same time as Indonesia said initial tests showed the virus had killed a 16-year-old girl.

This takes the death toll from the virus up to 65.

Although the latest victim who lived in an East Jakarta suburb near a bird market and had chickens and pet birds in her house, no evidence of contact with an infected bird has been established.

The strategy of the plan is aimed at eradicating bird flu from poultry in order to stop it from starting an influenza pandemic which could kill millions of people around the globe.

David Nabarro, the UN's chief bird flu coordinator, says it is important that there has been consensus and clarity, and better coordination.

He says as a result it should be much quicker to control avian influenza.

Nabarro believes that if a pandemic does start, there is a good chance it will be smaller as a result of the work they have done in the past three days than it would otherwise have been.

The H5N1 virus is endemic in poultry across Asia, and it has been found in birds in eastern Europe.

Experts fear that migrating flocks could spread it to the Middle East and Africa.

Although the virus remains hard for humans to catch, scientists say that, like all influenza viruses, it is steadily mutating and could acquire the genetic changes that make it easy to spread among humans.

According to WHO chief Lee Jong-Wook, the strategy aims to boost early warning systems, strengthen veterinary services, make it easier for rich and poor nations alike to get antiviral drugs, and step up research into pandemic vaccines.

He says over the next three years investments are urgently needed at the national level, to the tune of $1 billion.

Although it had already pledged $170 million, the Asian Development Bank made an extra $300 million available to fight bird flu in worst-hit countries such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Poverty in many Asian nations means there is a lack of adequate surveillance and reporting mechanisms and no compensation for farmers for poultry culls.

Africa, which many experts believe will be the next front line in the fight against bird flu, faces similar problems.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has called on the nation to intensify efforts to fight bird flu and says China is facing a very serious situation as he made an inspection tour of an affected province.

Wen said that bird flu has not been totally controlled in China and the danger of its spread still exists in some areas.

An outbreak among poultry in the northeast, is China's fourth this month and its largest.

Reports say the virus has spread to another three townships in the area and that 10 million poultry there have been slaughtered.

Swiss drug maker Roche says it has agreed to provide the raw ingredient to allow Vietnam to produce its antiviral medicine Tamiflu, one of the best defences against bird flu in humans.

Forty-two people have already died from bird flu in Vietnam.

Besides the human toll, experts are assessing the likely economic costs of a pandemic, as world energy demand might be curbed as people cut back on business and tourist travel.

Some estimate that the reduction in energy demand could translate into well over one million barrels per day.

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, world oil use is about 85 million barrels per day.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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