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Experts Predict Avian Flu Pandemic Could Kill 62 Million People


A team of researchers predicts 62 million people could die if a long-feared avian-flu pandemic strikes, with the vast majority of the fatalities occurring in the developing world. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

Kenneth Hill and colleagues of Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts came up with the mortality estimate by studying the death records of 27 countries from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and applying the formula to the world's population of more than six billion people in 2004.

Hill says the model predicts that 96 percent of those who would lose their lives in a modern-day disaster live in the developing world.

Investigators base their estimate on examples from death records during the pandemic of 1918 to 1920.

"The most remarkable impact was in India, where in one province of India, the excess mortality was something like eight percent of the population, compared with an impact in Denmark of only 0.2 percent of the population excess mortality," said Kenneth Hill.

Overall, the researchers found that countries in Asia and South America, which they studied, suffered 30 times the number of deaths during the Spanish flu pandemic than wealthier western nations.

The findings are reported in the medical journal The Lancet.

While resource poor countries are almost always hit hardest by natural disasters and disease, Hill says his study is the first to find a direct connection between poverty and the toll exacted by the Spanish flu pandemic.

"Up until now, it was thought that the impact was pretty much even across the planet," he said. "And we have shown that is not the case."

By getting a better sense of how many people might be affected by an avian flu pandemic and in which countries, Harvard University's Kenneth Hill says scarce resources could be directed toward the developing world, where they would be most needed.