Asia needs money to stave off a human pandemic of bird flu

The UN once again has warned the international community that the outbreak of bird flu in Asia could worsen. Asian countries struggling with bird flu need US$102 million (Ђ86 million) from international donors as soon as possible to bring the disease under control and stave off the threat of a human pandemic, U.N. officials said Tuesday, according to the AP.

Governments, especially in Vietnam and Indonesia, require the money to revamp health surveillance systems, vaccinate poultry and train veterinary experts over the next three years, said Joseph Domenech, the Food and Agriculture Organization's chief veterinary officer.

"This is an emergency task to prevent a human pandemic," Domenech told reporters during a three-day U.N. conference on bird flu co-organized by the FAO, the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, known by its French acronym OIE.

The FAO and OIE jointly released a document Tuesday to be distributed to potential donors, mainly the United States and European countries, outlining why international funding is crucial between now and 2008.

Exact figures for the funds raised or pledged so far remain unavailable, but Domenech indicated the amount was between US$10 million (Ђ8.4 million) and US$20 million (Ђ16.8 million).

In February, the FAO and World Animal Health Organization issued a joint declaration stating that the poorest countries in the region must receive help from the international community "to intensify precautionary measures and to contain the risks associated with the disease."

Almost all of the victims in recent years have been infected through direct contact with infected birds. The first recorded cases were in Hong Kong in 1997, when 18 people were infected and 6 died, since when there have been cases reported in Cambodia, China, the Republic of Korea, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. In the last twelve months, over 40 people have died from the disease and in the last month, 9 of Vietnam's reported 12 cases have proven fatal.

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