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Donors pledge $1.9 billion to fight bird flu

International donors have pledged $1.9 billion to support a global fund to combat bird flu, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said on Wednesday
The European Union's health commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, right, poses with James Adams, left, vice president of the World Bank, Du Qinglin, second from left, and Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator on avian and human influenza, at the conclusion of the bird flu conference on Wednesday.Michael Reynolds / Pool via AP
/ Source: news services

International donors have pledged $1.9 billion to support a global fund to combat bird flu, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said on Wednesday after a conference in Beijing, exceeding an initial target.

"It appears they are going to get well over $1.9 billion," Nancy Powell, the U.S. coordinator for health, science and the environment, told reporters after attending the pledging session in Beijing.

The World Bank had said $1.5 billion was needed to fight the H5N1 bird flu virus and prepare for a possible human flu pandemic and had urged donor countries to dig deep into their pockets.

International agencies at the two-day conference earlier told The Associated Press that commitments delivered informally so far exceeded $1.7 billion, a sure sign that countries were taking the threat of a potential pandemic seriously.

The United States responded with a pledge of about $334 million, saying in a statement the money would be mainly in the form of grants and technical assistance. That is significantly more than the conference organizers were anticipating.

The U.S. pledge, in grants and technical assistance, includes $56 million for animal and human health supplies, said the statement announcing the pledge. It was to be released at the ceremony later Wednesday.

Conference organizers had expected the United States to make one of the largest pledges, somewhere between $200 million and $300 million.

The pledge would also include $36 million to support international health organizations, $15 million for non-governmental organizations and the private sector, and $41 million for international research, the statement said.

The total EU pledge is nearly $250 million.

Pandemic's high cost
The Bank itself has estimated that a pandemic lasting a year could cost the global economy up to $800 billion. Across the globe, millions could die if the H5N1 avian flu virus mutates just enough to pass easily among people. Economies would be crippled for weeks or months.

“The amount asked for is small compared to the cost of a pandemic we are not ready for,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the conference in a video address.

World Bank vice president Jim Adams said there was a recognition that if dealt with promptly, bird flu could be managed.

Of the total pledged, he said between $100 million and $200 million would go into a trust fund to be managed by the World Bank. Some of the rest would be managed bilaterally -- between donors and targets of their choice.

He said more than half the $1.9 billion was new commitments, not mentioned in previous aid programs.

"My sense is that a large percentage of the money, certainly over 50 percent, is new money," he told Reuters.

The virus has killed at least 79 people since 2003, about half the people known to have been infected, the vast majority in East Asia, and governments in affected countries have urged the world community to do more to tackle H5N1, including providing funds to compensate owners of culled poultry.

The virus has since spread to Turkey and is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia, where it continues to kill people and infect poultry flocks.

'Not capable of coping... alone'
An Indonesian toddler died on Tuesday and was being tested for bird flu after his 13-year-old sister died of the virus, local tests show. Turkey confirmed its 21st human case, underscoring the urgent need to raise money to help improve veterinary and health services in poor countries.

“Partial approaches to donations only causes more burdens,” Indonesian delegate Aburizal Bakrie told delegates.

“In Indonesia’s case, we are not capable of coping with the problem alone. Without international cooperation and financial support, Indonesia will face major difficulties in further developing and implementing its national strategy,” he added.

Indonesia has had 12 confirmed deaths from H5N1, while five people have survived. But this doesn’t include three recent deaths being investigated.