World Bank To Put Up $1 Billion To Fight Bird Flu

The World Bank is ready to issue emergency loans by the end of the year to countries attempting to control the spread of avian flu as part of a $1 billion-plus assistance package, reports The Financial Times (11/05).

James Adams, the World Bank’s vice-president for operations policy and country services and head of its avian flu taskforce, told the financial daily the board of directors would in coming weeks discuss plans to begin disbursing funds next month from a no-interest 40-year “multi-country instrument” worth up to $500 million.

The mechanism would be supplemented early next year by a World Bank-administered “trust fund”, for which it hopes to attract a further $500 million or more from donor countries to be allocated for rapid spending in countries at risk. The funds would be directed as a priority towards strengthening veterinary systems and improving disease surveillance and animal vaccination and culling in Asia, Adams said. Initial disbursements were likely in Indonesia and Vietnam, but he said Moldova and Turkey could also be among the early recipients.

Adams said studies by the World Bank in Vietnam suggested that much of the funding would need to go to compensating farmers, to ensure that they did not try to conceal any infection in birds. He expected farmers would receive about two-thirds of the market price of their poultry.

News of the plan comes ahead of a three-day international meeting at the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva [Monday] aimed at setting priorities and estimating the costs of controlling avian flu and limiting the risk of its possible spread to humans. That will be followed in January by a donors’ conference for governments in Beijing, at which the European Union is to play an important role.

“The message in Geneva is the more that is done upfront, the more the system is protected against the much larger sums of money that will be required if the virus reaches humans,” said Adams. Adams said that in an unusual step, the World Bank would call for support to shore up the two United Nations organizations in the front line of action against avian flu, the Food And Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health. “They have only 40 veterinarians between them. If we want to be fast and reactive before bird flu becomes chronic, we have to shore up the sister agencies.”

The Associated Press (11/05) adds that the funding mechanism for the bird-flu plan, similar to that used by the World Bank to finance its AIDS programs in Africa, would allow low-income countries access to grants and loans from the banks’ lending arm, the International Development Association, Adams said.

Reuters (11/04) writes that Africa will seek financial and technical support next week at the conference in Geneva, officials said on Friday. Agriculture ministers from 17 African countries also called on the continent to boost its surveillance capabilities at the end of a conference in the Rwandan capital tasked with hammering out a regional response to the threat. The Rwanda conference was initially planned as a forum for talks on eradicating Rinderpest from the continent and stemming the spread of other animal diseases such as African swine fever. But events have been overtaken by the global bird flu scare, making it the focus of the conference. West Africa is considered less at risk than East Africa, where experts say wild fowl migrating through the region’s Rift Valley stop off on water ways, a possible conduit for the virus. South Africa is the best prepared African country with infrastructure and expertise unrivaled elsewhere in the region.

Reuters (11/07) further reports that the World Bank said on Monday the financial cost of a human influenza pandemic could rise to as much as $800 billion, a two percent chunk of the world’s annual gross domestic product. In a report on the bird flu threat, the Bank said a two percent loss of global GDP during an influenza pandemic — like that caused by SARS in East Asia during the second quarter of 2003 — would represent about $200 billion in losses in one quarter or $800 billion over a year. “And it is fair to assume the shock during a flu epidemic could be even larger and last longer than SARS,” Milan Brahmbhatt, World Bank chief economist for the Asia and Pacific region told the talks. “In addition to these immediate costs of disruption, a global flu pandemic would also entail a sizeable loss of potential world output through a reduction in the size and productivity of the world labor force due to illness and death,” Brahmbhatt said.

Agence France Presse (11/07) adds that a 1999 US study calculated that in the United States, a pandemic would lead to between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths, together with 700,000 or more hospitalizations, up to 40 million outpatient visits and 50 million additional illnesses. For the US economy alone, the costs, both directly from the disease and from lost production, were estimated at between $100 billion and $200 billion. “If we extrapolate from the US to all high-income countries, there could be a present value loss of 550 billion dollars,” said the World Bank report, entitled ‘Economic Assessment of the Avian Influenza Threat.’ “The loss for the world would of course be significantly larger, because of the impact in the developing world.”

The Associated Press (11/07) meanwhile reports that authorities ordered all live poultry markets in China’s capital to close immediately and went door-to-door seizing chickens and ducks from private homes, as the government dramatically beefed up its fight against bird flu on Monday. Beijing also announced that 6 million birds had been culled around the site of China’s most recent bird flu outbreak, and the World Health Organization said it had been asked to help in the reopened investigation of the country’s possible first human cases of the virus.

In related news, Reuters (11/07) notes that Roche will raise the production of Tamiflu to 300 million treatments from 2007 and is also in talks with third parties to produce what is seen as the most effective drug for bird flu, the drug maker said on Monday. Roche said it had received more than 150 requests from third parties to produce Tamiflu and it was in early talks with eight companies, including large generic manufacturers, and with governments.

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