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Donors Turn Attention to Distributing Millions to Prevent Spread of Bird Flu


Donors pledged nearly $500 million during an international conference in Mali on stemming the spread of a deadly strain of bird flu. Experts now are discussing how to make sure the money is channeled where it is needed to prevent a global outbreak of the H5N1 virus. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's Dakar bureau.

The United States, Canada, the European Union and Japan led the list of donors pledging money to fight a potential international bird flu epidemic at the Mali conference. This new money is in addition to $1.9 billion dollars pledged at a summit in Beijing this past January.

The issue officials now face is how to make sure the money goes to agencies and countries most in need, and that the money is spent on bird flu prevention.

Health experts fear that the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus could mutate to a form that spreads easily among humans.

Officials discussing how to disburse the money recognize the risk of corruption, especially in many African countries that are seen as the weakest link in the fight against the virus. Bird flu has been reported in eight African countries.

Donors want to fund a compensation system to help farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by the disease. Without financial compensation, some fear that farmers will sell sick birds rather than kill them, which increases the risk of the virus spreading.

The director general of the World Organization for Animal Health, Bernard Vallat, proposes national commissions to distribute the funds, which would include both public officials and animal owners. He says this will make the payment system more transparent

Alex Thiermann of the World Organization for Animal Health says the needs of each country should be assessed by the same standard. "Rather than doing quick fixes here and there, the important message is that, in order to efficiently spend resources available, we are going to apply the tool and determine in every country the priorities of funding, based on the results of an assessment," he said.

Major donors include the World Bank, which has a $10-million emergency fund for outbreaks, and countries that have pledged millions at the Beijing and Bamako bird flu conferences this year. The groups that are waiting for these funds include international groups that provide help directly to governments, like the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to the World Health Organization, the H5N1 virus has led to around 150 deaths, and has affected more than 250 people.

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