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Countries Step up Battle Against Bird Flu

Rich nations have promised to step up the cash flow for fighting bird flu on Friday, and the World Bank estimated that $1.5 billion is needed to fight the pandemic on a global scale.//

Most of the funds would be needed in East Asia and the Pacific region, followed by Europe and Central Asia, and then Africa. Latin America is considered low risk and if the disease were to spread to the region it would most likely originate from an infection in North America.

The European Union has already pledged $100 million towards measures to contain bird flu. Separately, Japan has pledged $155 million, and officials said the US was gearing up to pledge at least $250 million.

With tens of millions of birds being culled worldwide and countries scrambling to stockpile the anti-viral drug, the bank has cautioned that its analysis was only an initial estimate, as it was impossible to anticipate when a pandemic may occur, or how severe it could be. It had developed the cost estimate with guidance from lead agencies such as the World Health Organization and the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.

"While precise figures are difficult to estimate, the burden on health systems is likely to be considerable," the bank said.

Funds will be needed for animal and human health alike, and to build stockpiles of the antiviral drug to treat H5N1 victims. The virus still mostly affects birds, but which has infected about 150 people and killed at least 78. Now fears of mutations in the H5N1 strain are bothering scientists.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has sent a team of experts to Turkey to fight a growing outbreak there. They will join experts already on hand from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Turkey is culling more and more birds to try to stop the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus from preading further. So are some of its fearful neighbors.
< br> Turkey's Agriculture Ministry said almost 600,000 poultry had been culled across the country over the past two weeks. Newspapers say the authorities may offer 5 lira ($3) per chicken, 15 ($9) lira per goose and duck and 20 lira ($12) per turkey as compensation.

The human victims of the disease had all been in East Asia until the recent outbreak in Turkey brought the virus to the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Three infected children died last week in eastern Turkey and 15 more people have tested positive. Authorities are testing whether a four-year-old girl who died Friday was infected.

Two children were discharged from a hospital in Van, eastern Turkey, on Thursday after being treated with Tamiflu. Like many other children, they were apparently infected while comforting a sick chicken.

International pharmaceutical giant Roche AG, maker of Tamiflu, the best-known drug defense against flu, said it would donate more antiviral pills to Asia, the epicenter of the pandemic threat. Turkish doctors feel early use of the drug would help save some young victims of the H5N1.

Roche told a bird flu conference in Tokyo it was in talks with the World Health Organization about donating more Tamiflu to set up an Asian stockpile.

Worried Neighbors

Iran has started culling thousands of birds along its border with Turkey to try to stop the disease from spreading.

France has was extended its poultry confinement measures to 58 departments from an original 26 as fears grew over a virus believed to be carried by migratory birds.

Romania, just across the Black Sea from Turkey, has boosted disinfection measures on major roads and introduced luggage checks. The H5N1 virus has been found in poultry in 26 Romanian villages since October, but no human cases of the disease have been reported.

Africa Seeks Aid

Meanwhile, African states will present an action plan to reduc e the risk of a bird flu outbreak on the world's poorest continent at the Beijing meeting, experts said. The plan, worked out by 140 experts from 43 African countries, will seek financing from international organizations and donors to strengthen medical testing facilities in Africa to provide early warning of the virus.

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has not yet been detected in Africa. But African experts fear that the flight paths of migrating birds through the east and west of the continent, coupled with traditional farming methods that see poor communities living side by side with poultry, raise the risk of an outbreak.

While it remains essentially a disease in birds, scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that could spread easily between humans, causing a pandemic in which millions could die.

Experts say lack of financial, medical and technical resources in Africa could make it even more difficult to fight a major outbreak on the continent.


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