U.N. agency lacks money to tackle bird flu

Donors have pledged just a fraction of the US$150 million (Ђ123.78 million) needed to tackle the threat of bird flu and prevent a possible human pandemic, a U.N. food agency said Monday.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said that just US$20 million (Ђ16.5 million) has been pledged. The money is needed for the vaccination of poultry and the exchange and analysis of virus samples in affected countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, it said.

"It makes sense to stockpile antiviral drugs to protect humans against a potential avian influenza pandemic, but at the same time we have to contain the virus at source, in animals, to reduce the risk to people," said Joseph Domenech, the agency's chief veterinary officer.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swathes of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing at least 65 people, more than 40 of them in Vietnam, and resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds.

Domenech said the response to a US$100 million (Ђ82.52 million) appeal launched in May had not been sufficient, and that without further funding "the cycle of bird flu infection that will occur in poultry this winter will not be stopped."

The agency said an additional US$50 million (Ђ41.26 million) was now necessary to cover the costs of bird flu prevention over the next three years.

The agency said in a statement that while Thailand had successfully controlled the avian flu crisis, Vietnam and Indonesia needed financial help for their vaccination programs. It said Vietnam alone needed US$10 million (Ђ8.25 million) to implement its program.

The agency also urged countries in the pathways of wild bird migrations _ including India and Bangladesh and countries in Central Europe, the Middle East and Africa _ to set up early warning, surveillance and rapid response programs.

It said a large part of the requested funds should be used to finance such control programs, warning that national governments would not be able to manage on their own.