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UN Official Says $1.5 Billion Needed for Bird Flu Fight

A top U.N. official says $1.5 billion is needed to launch a worldwide campaign against bird flu. The world body is hoping for an outpouring of scientific as well as financial support at a U.N.-sponsored conference of concerned countries being held next week in Beijing.

The coordinator of the U.N.'s Avian influenza program, Dr. David Nabarro , called the $1.5 billion being sought in Beijing "just the beginning" of what is needed to head off a possible pandemic. "I'm not for a minute suggesting that the amounts of money we are talking about at the Beijing meeting are all that's going to be needed, but they're what's required to help countries put in place their influenza programs," he said.

Dr. Nabarro said he is encouraged by the initial response from prospective donors, including a promise of a significant pledge from Washington. "A really great positive development was that the United States has managed to come up with a pretty significant appropriation for international aspects of influenza. It's not clear to me what figures they're going to pledge, (because) I don't fully know, but all indications are that they're going to be a reasonable amount of the total, and that's a good thing. Because when the United States takes the lead on an issue, the rest of the world certainly sits up and takes notice," he said.

Dr. Nabarro praised Turkey's quick response to the outbreak of bird flu there, saying Turkish authorities had "got it right". But he cautioned that Turkey's neighbors must make urgent preparations for a possible spread of the virus.

The U.N. official says the international health community is busy "like never before," working with other countries worried that the virus might appear on their territory. "I think even most fragile countries are getting themselves prepared. I don't want to name names, but I keep hearing of ministers of health and agriculture coming together under the auspices of regional organizations all over the world, because they want to be ready. It's not panic, simply sensible precaution. And I'm finding that in Africa, including North Africa, there is a great deal of work to get ready, even in those countries you or I might refer to sometimes as fragile countries, there is action underway," he said.

At the same time, Dr. Nabarro says there is no sign of a worldwide pandemic, and no element indicating human-to-human transmission of the virus. He said he is alarmed by reports that people are cutting back on their consumption of poultry. "Still we can be sure that the vast majority of poultry that we buy, the meat we buy and the birds we buy are going to be totally safe to eat, and if there's any danger that they might have any pathogen on the meat, if it's properly cooked, (the meat) will be all right," he said.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 75 people since the first outbreak was reported in China in 2003. All have been in East Asia, with the exception of two recent deaths in Turkey.