The International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza opened yesterday in Beijing and participants at the two-day meeting are expected to endorse a declaration today that reflects the political will of the world to combat the epidemic.
The two-day meeting, sponsored by the Chinese government, the European Commission and the World Bank, comes at a time when the bird flu strain seems to be becoming more virulent and its control stymied by funding shortages.
"There is a significant shortfall of funds in many affected countries and relevant international agencies, which will seriously hamper their prevention and control efforts," Vice-Foreign Minister Qiao Zonghuai said in the opening speech yesterday.
Therefore, the gathering assumes great significance in mobilizing necessary resources and technical assistance and enhancing international cooperation, Qiao said.
The World Bank estimates the total financing gap that needs to be filled to prepare for, and respond to, avian and human influenza at roughly US$1.2 billion.
"This gap can only be filled if all sources of external donor funds are combined and development finance partners work together," the World Bank said.
The priority for disbursing grants will go to affected or high-risk countries, notably Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia and Viet Nam.
Since the first reports of H5N1 outbreaks in Asia in late 2003, bird flu has killed or prompted the culling of nearly 140 million domestic poultry, and has now reached Europe. The fatal strain of the virus has infected nearly 150 people in six countries, killing more than half of them.
International decision makers, experts and organizations yesterday summarized the outcome of a major world meeting in Geneva in early November that addressed the H5N1 threat, and discussed a financing framework that identifies a range of mechanisms and arrangements to support an integrated and coordinated response.
Most of yesterday's sessions were closed to the press.
Vice-Minister Qiao said he expected the meeting to strengthen partnership among countries.
"The international community should give priority to increasing support to affected countries and help them build the capabilities for prevention, control and emergency response," he said.
A long-term strategic partnership should be established among them, enabling them to share bird flu information in an open, timely and transparent manner; and increase transparency in research and development of effective vaccines and antiviral drugs, he said.
"We live on the same planet and our destinies are interconnected," Qiao said. "In the fight against avian influenza, no country can stay safe by looking the other way."
David Nabarro, senior United Nations system coordinator for avian and human influenza, said the international community has made headway in working out a comprehensive control strategy, preventing the infection from spreading to humans, and setting up international technology networks.
"Unless we are working as one, we won't get a good result," Nabarro said. "We are being put to the test like never before working together. We can reduce death rates and the economic impact of both avian flu and a future pandemic."
Attending the conference are more than 700 representatives from 100 countries and international organizations.
(China Daily January 18, 2006)