U.S., Europe and World bank to give Vietnam US$6.8 million to fight bird flu

Vietnam joined the United Nations on Thursday in launching a US$6.8 million (5.6 million) joint program to combat bird flu over the winter months, when the majority of the country's fatalities from the illness have occurred in past years.

The agreement is the first of its kind and includes donors such as the United States, Europe and the World Bank. About US$2.1 million (Ђ1.75 million) has been secured so far for a plan that will stretch over the next six months, said Jordan Ryan, head of the U.N. Development Program in Vietnam.

The plan aims to strengthen surveillance and rapid response systems, vaccinate poultry, and complete the country's national emergency preparedness plan to deal with a bird flu epidemic, which health experts have warned could trigger a global pandemic that could kill millions of people.

"This is a potential country in the world where this disease can either be stopped or where it will emanate throughout the world," Ryan said. "I think the prime minister and others do not want Vietnam to be seen as the country where this started."

The announcement comes just ahead of winter in the Southeast Asian nation _ the worst hit by the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus. The majority of Vietnam's 43 human deaths from bird flu in past years have occurred over the winter months.

Since late 2003, the virus has ravaged Asian poultry stocks, killing more than 60 people region-wide.

Ryan said the national plan will also include mock exercises to test how prepared Vietnam is to deal with bird flu or any other deadly disease if it started spreading rapidly. The World Health Organization and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization will assist Vietnam in its preparedness planning, reports the AP. I.L.

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