An international bird flu conference was hailed a huge success after it wrapped up Wednesday with donor countries and organizations pledging $1.9 billion (1.6 billion euros) to fight the killer virus.
The bird flu conference's hosts were pleased with the result
The figure far surpassed the $1.5 billion target of the two-day International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza in Beijing attended by officials from half the nations of the planet.
"It was a conference of commitment and pledging that really showed solidarity," the UN's coordinator on avian and human influenza, David Nabarro, told reporters at the end of the conference. "We've got a fantastic set of pledges from poor countries as well as rich countries. Even countries that cannot put money into the funding are saying we are going to commit our people and our governments to get the results."
The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Safety, Markos Kyprianou, said nearly $1 billion had been pledged in grants, which would go mainly to low-income countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. The other $900 million would come in loans, he said.
US donates most
The United States was the biggest donor, pledging $334 million, followed by the European Union, which said it would offer $260 million. Within the EU, $138 million will come directly from the 25 member states while the European Commission will deliver another $121 million. Japan committed $159 million to the global fight, while Russia pledged $44.9 million and Australia committed itself to $41.7 million. China, which co-hosted the event along with the World Bank and the European Commission, pledged $10 million.
The world is unprepared for a bird flu pandemic, UN chief Annan said
The higher-than-expected pledges came after the conference was told repeatedly of the immense dangers for the world posed by the bird flu virus, which has killed around 80 people since re-emerging in 2003. With the virus spreading from Asia to the Middle East and now to Europe in the past year, the world fears bird flu could become a pandemic that could kill millions.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the conference via video link that the world was not prepared for a pandemic and called for major efforts in stepping up preparations.
"There's no time to waste," Annan said. "Let's ensure we're ready. We are not yet there. To be truly prepared we would need to mount a tremendous effort."
All countries face threat
With the disease killing four people in Turkey this month, the first deaths outside Southeast Asia and China, the conference heard that the virus was capable of spreading easily across borders.
Some of the money pledged will go to slaughtering and vaccinated poultry
"All countries can be affected if a pandemic occurs," World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said in a televised speech. "All countries share responsibilities to fight the spread of the disease and to put human and financial resources behind the effort."
Officials said the next step was to assess funding proposals from the needy countries and set up a system to ensure the money is well spent to implement a three-year action plan laid out at the first donors' conference in Geneva in November. The plan aims to keep bird flu from moving from its current form, which is mainly transmitted from poultry to humans, to one that is transmissible among humans.
Most of the money will be spent on launching public awareness programs, strengthening outbreak detection and response, disinfection, slaughter and vaccination of poultry, and compensation for farmers. Money will also be used to stockpile drugs to treat bird flu victims and to prepare a currently non-existent vaccine.