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Sunday, October 26, 2008

U.S. pledges extra $320 million for bird flu fight

By Alastair Sharp

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - The United States pledged an additional $320 million to the global fight against bird flu and warned on Saturday against complacency in combating the virus, which could mutate and cause a deadly pandemic.

The figure brings to $949 million Washington's total pledges to fight avian influenza, which has killed 245 people in Asia, Africa, and Europe since late 2003. Countless birds have been culled.

"The United States is pledging an additional $320 million in international assistance for avian and pandemic influenza," said Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

At the opening of a ministerial conference in Egypt, Dobriansky echoed comments from Egyptian ministers and heads of international organizations in warning of "flu fatigue."

"(There is) a growing feeling that the threat of an influenza pandemic has somehow diminished and that scarce resources could be better used elsewhere in the field of public health, in other words flu fatigue," she said.

Official pledges will be made at the end of the conference on Sunday, but the European Commission has indicated it will not promise additional money, saying half of the funds already allocated had not yet been spent.

"We are going to be at this for another year or two with the current commitments that we have," said James Moran, the head of Commission's external relations unit.

Moran said some 140 million euros ($176.2 million) would be available for research into bird flu and other infectious diseases in 2009.

"This is quite a substantial amount of funding but we can't say right now what proportion of it will be spent outside of the EU," he said.

Next year the conference will be held in Vietnam.

European Union member states and the European Commission have previously given a total of 413 million euros toward global efforts to combat avian influenza.

Of the additional U.S. funds, $94 million will go to international organizations for capacity building and pandemic preparation, while $86 million is allocated for bilateral programs, $57 million is for research and $83 million will go into a contingency fund.

The World Bank estimates that a global pandemic resulting from the mutation of bird flu could cost $3 trillion and result in a nearly 5 percent drop in world gross domestic product.

It has said that more than 70 million people could die worldwide in a severe pandemic.

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