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UN Official Says Millions of Dollars Needed to Fight Bird Flu in Southeast Asia

A U.N. official has warned that combating the spread of bird flu in poor Southeast Asian countries could cost more than $100 million during the next three years. The warning comes as delegates from Asia-Pacific countries wrap up a meeting in Australia organized to discuss ways of stopping an avian flu pandemic.

A senior U.N. official says vast amounts of money will be needed to wage an effective war against bird flu in poorer Southeast Asian nations.

Subhash Morvaria of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's regional office in Thailand said that Asia-Pacific countries should concentrate efforts on fighting bird flu in poultry.

Mr. Morvaria was speaking at a two-day summit in the eastern Australian city of Brisbane convened to discuss a regional response to bird flu.

Disaster management officials joined health and quarantine experts from the 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group, known as APEC.

Australia's ambassador to APEC, Doug Chester, says the summit discussed specific measures to counter a bird flu outbreak.

"They will be things like early detection, early response, trying to contain the geographic location of any outbreak," said Mr. Chester.

The summit agreed to organize a full-scale simulated bird flu emergency early next year and discussed the establishment of a specialist taskforce to respond to outbreaks.

The H5N1 virus remains primarily a disease in birds. It has infected at least 122 people in Asia and killed more than 60, but experts are concerned that if it mutates to a form easily transmitted between humans, millions of people could die.

A delegate from Thailand, Dr. Darika Kingnate, says that Asian countries need to do more to monitor wild birds, which may spread the disease.

"One thing that we like to have is that the APEC countries put an effort in the surveillance in migrating birds," he said.

The conference also heard pleas for help from Cambodia and Vietnam.

Officials from Vietnam, which has been hardest hit by the disease, told delegates they need tens of millions of dollars to stop the spread of the virus.

More than 40 people have died from avian influenza in Vietnam. Officials there say more infections are being reported and their stocks of anti-viral drugs are insufficient.

Australia has signaled its willingness to close its borders during an epidemic and New Zealand is considering a plan to close its borders to all incoming travelers in the event of a bird flu crisis.