Bird Flu Alarm

2006-01-12-World Bank approves first bird flu funding

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-01-12-World Bank approves first bird flu funding

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - World Bank member countries on Thursday endorsed $500 million in aid to help countries deal with bird flu, ahead of next week's meeting in Beijing where additional funds will be sought, a senior bank official said.

Jim Adams, the bank's vice president for operations policy and country services, told Reuters that Kyrgyzstan is the first country to benefit from the new funding and will receive about $5 million in February to prepare for bird flu.

"We have flexibility now to go out and negotiate with individual countries to provide money," Adams said in an interview, adding he was "cautiously optimistic" that donor countries will be able to fund a $1 billion financing gap for a global war chest for bird flu at the Beijing meeting.

He said the $500 million from the World Bank would be part of filling the shortfall.

Adams on Thursday presented the board with reasons to support the fund, saying it was vital the bank be ready to issue funding to countries as quickly as possible.

The current outbreak in Turkey has demonstrated the need for a swift reaction, he added.

"There is some literature that says this is being exaggerated, but I tried very hard to underline that we're taking a balanced approach," he said, adding: "We don't want to get into a box where if nothing happens in the next six months we get criticized, on the other hand we think the risks are such that this broader program is justified."

At least three children have died in Turkey from the H5N1 bird flu virus and another 18 have been infected. The virus has been found in wild birds and poultry across large parts of the country, stretching from Istanbul to Van, in eastern Turkey near the borders with Iran and Iraq.

Adams said it was possible that Turkey could also become a recipient of bird flu aid, but its government first wanted to see the outcome of the Beijing donor pledging session that would make grant handouts available to countries.

A World Bank assessment has found that Turkey may need about $30 million in funding to improve its surveillance, veterinary services and communications on bird flu.

"I wouldn't describe the situation in Turkey as under control yet, but the Turkish government has mobilized to implement the program which will deal with the issue. We see ourselves providing support to that effort," he added.

"It's not only Turkey. Our concern is that within that area now we think there is likely to be problems so now we're talking with all of the neighboring governments," Adams said.

The virus has spread from Asia to more recently Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Romania and Ukraine and the increases in the number of known human cases has raised concerns over the potential for a pandemic.

The World Bank has estimated that a flu pandemic lasting a year could cost the global economy up to $800 billion.

Understanding Avian Influenza