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Europe

EU Presses China Over Bird Flu Fight As Conference Starts

The EU has urged China and other Asian states to coordinate better in fighting bird flu as it co-hosts a donor conference Tuesday in Beijing on the global health threat.

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China has been vaccinating pigeons as part of its offensive against bird flu

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou this week underlined the importance of Asian countries cooperating closely in countering bird flu, which has claimed lives in China and Southeast Asia.

"Better coordination at the global level is necessary to tackle the spread of avian flu and any possible outbreak of a human influenza pandemic," Kyprianou said. "Asia, and in particular China, is at the forefront in this fight. Improved surveillance, transparency and technical cooperation within the region and with the EU is key to win this battle," he added.

Vogelgrippe in China ausgebrochen, Heishan, Provinz Liaoning

Workers disinfect a road in Heishan, in China's northeast Liaoning province

China is considered one of the places where bird flu could mutate to a strain capable of human transmission, triggering a global pandemic that could spread like wildfire and kill millions.

But after its cover-up of the SARS respiratory disease crisis in 2003, Beijing has been praised for its transparency in tackling bird flu by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Battle against bird flu far from over

The European Union is co-hosting the Beijing donor conference on Tuesday and Wednesday, along with China and the World Bank. Representatives of 90 countries and 25 organizations participate.

The meeting aims to hammer out a strategy to stop the deadly H5N1 virus from triggering a human pandemic that could kill millions. The European Commission is set to pledge $100 million (83 million euros).

The World Bank aims to raise $1.2 billion at the conference to battle a virus that has killed 79 people since 2003, according to WHO figures.

David Nabarro, senior UN coordinator for avian and human influenza told Reuters that the fight against bird flu was far from over.

"To be asking the world to invest $1.5 billion -- which is the total I would like to see -- to be asking for that sort of money, is really a very small amount in comparison with the total cost to the world of a pandemic," Nabarro said. "We can't at this stage say that the situation is globally is under control. However, I have seen a great increase in the intensity with which countries are tackling avian influenza."

Bird flu claims fourth victim in Turkey

But news from Turkey, the latest country struggling to cope with an outbreak of the virus, continues to cause unease in Europe.

Vogelgrippe Türkei

Boys pluck feathers from poultry in a Turkish market without protective gloves or masks

The death toll from bird flu in Turkey climbed to four after a local lab detected the virus in a girl who died over the weekend, as doctors warned that seeking medical help too late was proving fatal.

Samples from Fatma Ozcan, 12, who died Sunday in a hospital in the eastern city of Van, tested positive for the lethal H5N1 strain of avian influenza, the health ministry said, after initial tests returned negative results.

Doctors in the hospital in Van were battling to save the girl's five-year-old brother, Muhammed, who was described as the most worrisome case among the 16 confirmed H5N1 carriers in the country. Ten other people infected with the virus remain in treatment in hospitals across the country, while five have been discharged, the health ministry said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the studies of Turkish patients were providing "a unique opportunity" to learn more about the disease in humans. "The studies are also generating new data that can be used to assess the efficacy of antiviral drugs, such as oseltamivir -- or Tamiflu," the WHO said on its Web site, referring to the medicine considered to be the most efficient in bird flu treatment.

The Turkish agriculture ministry announced on Sunday that 764,000 birds had been slaughtered across the country since late December when the virus was detected in poultry in a remote region near the border with Iran.

Since then, it has steadily spread westwards, reaching the capital Ankara and Turkey's biggest city, Istanbul, on Europe's doorstep.

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