World Bank pledges up to US $500 million to fight bird flu

New cases emerge in China, Vietnam; Japan prepares to slaughter 180,000 birds.

bird flu 88 (photo credit: )
bird flu 88
(photo credit: )
The World Bank said it was finalizing plans to provide up to US $500 million to help poor countries fight bird flu, as new cases emerged in China and Vietnam and Japan prepared to slaughter around 180,000 birds because of a suspected outbreak. The plan comes as the bank prepares to take part in an international conference in Geneva next week to discuss managing bird flu in poultry and other birds, as well as plans for a possible human flu pandemic. The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 62 people and resulted in the deaths of more than 100 million birds since 2003. Most of the human deaths have been linked to close contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form easily passed among humans, possibly sparking a worldwide pandemic. China's latest outbreak - the fourth in three weeks in the world's most populous country - killed 8,940 chickens on Oct. 26 in Liaoning province's Badaohao village east of Beijing, the government said Friday. The outbreak prompted authorities destroy 369,900 other birds in the area, and came despite efforts to tighten controls on China's 5.2 billion chickens, ducks and other poultry. Hong Kong immediately banned poultry imports from Liaoning, reflecting growing concern that China is becoming a potential bird flu flash point. No human cases have been reported in China, but authorities warn it is inevitable if the government can't stop repeated outbreaks in poultry. In Vietnam - where most of the human deaths have occurred - more than 3,000 poultry died or were culled this week in three villages in Bac Giang province about 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Hanoi, said provincial vice chairman Nguyen Dang Khoa. Transporting poultry to or from the three villages was banned, and the towns and those around them have been disinfected and remaining poultry vaccinated, he said. In Japan, authorities said antibody testing had found that 80 chickens at a farm in Ibaraki prefecture (state) had been exposed to a virus of the H5 strain, but survived. Nevertheless, 180,000 or 300,000 birds at the farm would be culled as a precaution, livestock officials said. The funding package being contemplated by the World Bank could be used by countries to "supplement government resources, to strengthen the veterinary systems and to put in place culling and vaccine programs for animals," said Jim Adams, the World Bank's vice president for operations policy and country services. Countries such as Vietnam, Romania and Indonesia could take advantage of the funds once they become available. Between US $300 million and US $500 million is being considered, the World Bank said Friday. The funding mechanism for the bird-flu plan - similar to that used by the World Bank for funding its AIDS programs in Africa - would allow low-income countries access to grants and loans from the banks' lending arm, the International Development Association, Adams said. Meanwhile, a meeting of government ministers from 17 African nations appealed to the continent's governments to share resources, warning that migratory birds from Europe and Asia could carry the virus to their shores. Africa, which has an estimated 1.1 billion domesticated poultry, is of particular concern, because with its strained infrastructure, experts fear any cases may be poorly reported and managed. In the United States, Hawaii became the first state this week to being airport monitoring of passengers to detect signs of bird flu or other viruses. Passengers and airport visitors will not be required to submit to examinations but will be tested only on a voluntary basis for flu viruses, said Catherine Chow, a medical prevention officer for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.