Bird flu: No time for complacency

With a 50 percent death rate in humans, a pandemic of bird flu would kill tens of millions of people

Bird flu is so called because it affects birds, mostly. However, it has already passed from birds to humans and the 120 reported cases in the last 18 months have had a 50 percent death rate – 60 people. The worst case scenario is that the virus (H5N1) will mutate, latching itself onto the human flu virus and passing from human to human, causing a pandemic against which mankind has no defences. The result would be a catastrophic Spanish flu-type disaster, killing tens of millions of people.

Therefore it is imperative to work hard now, in the small window of time left before the flu virus starts to emerge from east to west, in the winter. Until now, only 16.5 million USD of the 100 million promised by donors has been accounted for. This money is needed to carry out tests in birds and to perform a massive vaccination programme in countries where large numbers of people live in close proximity to chickens and ducks, such as in South-East Asia.

The Food and Agriculture Organization's Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech declared at a press conference on Wednesday that “We have to contain the virus at source, in animals, to reduce the risk to people.” The agencies and organizations working on the contention process are The Global Strategy for the Progressive Control of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, the inter-governmental World Animal Health Organization (OIE), and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

So far 140.000.000 birds have died from the disease or have been culled, showing the seriousness of the situation. It is typical of our world today that while hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on weapons systems such as Star Wars, to defend the United States against an attack from Mars or Pluto, the UN experts are already and increasingly speaking about an impending pandemic using words such as “catastrophic.”

On Thursday, Lee Jong-Wook, Director-General of the WHO, stated at a meeting of health officials at the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, that. “There is a storm brewing that will test us all. We must anticipate it and prepare to the very best of our combined ability,” adding that “Failure to take this threat seriously and prepare appropriately will have catastrophic consequences.”

Unless the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, launched recently at the General Assembly of the UNO, is taken seriously by the international community and unless the adequate funding is made available immediately, this winter could be doomsday for tens of millions of people around the world. More than a case of thinking about Christmas, it is more to the point to consider whether we will arrive there. To note, the pandemics of 1957 and 1968 began as...bird flu.

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Author`s name Olga Savka