updated 1/16/2006 11:23:58 AM ET 2006-01-16T16:23:58

The World Bank anticipates countries will donate generously to the effort to stop bird flu from becoming a global epidemic, an official said Monday on the eve of a donors’ conference.

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The two-day gathering in Beijing is expected to raise at least $1 billion for countries struggling to cope with the disease, said Jim Adams, the World Bank’s vice president of operations policy and country services.

“We’re anticipating a very generous EU response. We have a very strong commitment from the U.S. We expect the Japanese to come with a strong commitment,” Adams said.

The World Bank has said that as much as $1.5 billion is needed over the next three years to ward off a human pandemic. The disease has killed at least 79 people in Asia and Turkey since 2003.

Most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the H5N1 strain of the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between people.

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