Monday, June 05, 2006

Managing the Avian Flu problem

(Source Article: Managing the Avian Flu in South Asia - WB news)

The World Bank recently noted a few major challenges that impede the task of stopping the spread of the bird flu problem in South Asia: weak health infrastructure, high density populations and illiteracy.

According to Julian Schweitzer, WB’s director for Human Development in South Asia, the inability to carry out “effective surveillance” of the spread of the disease renders the risk of it running out of control much higher. Additionally, the important role poultry plays in the livelihood of the region’s societies further exacerbates the problem.

Beginning with outbreaks in South-East Asia in 2003, the avian flu has now spread to parts of Europe, nine Asian countries, and 224 cases have been reported in humans, with 127 of those resulting in death. Despite the increasing spread of the disease, most of those countries that, just this past January, pledged approximately $2 billion to fight avian flu have yet to pay up – only $286 million of the $2 billion has been disbursed. (see Only a few nations have met bird-flu commitments - WB press release)

India has been cited as taking some of the most effective steps towards limiting the spread of the disease, having culled hundreds of thousands of chickens and shut down many poultry farms – such steps are imperative when the virus is detected. The World Bank, in support of such steps, ensures adequate compensation of such farmers whose operations have to be shut down in order to prevent the farmers from not reporting presence of the disease. Additionally, the Bank’s funding aims to improve clinical diagnosis, preventive measures and response capacity of local health systems.

Avian flu poses a severe risk to the economy via the possibility that it might mutate into a virus capable of being transmitted easily from human-to-human – and it would be something that humans have limited immunity to. According to the Global Development Finance Report, released last week, “a severe avian flu pandemic in South Asia could reduce output by almost 5 percent of GDP, constituting a major recession.”

In related news, today the Bank took proactive steps to helping fund Armenia’s Avian Influenza Preparedness Project, a project seeking to prepare the government of that country to deal with the infectious disease appearing in the human population. (see WB supports Armenia’s efforts against bird flu)

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