Beijing yesterday became the centre of international efforts to fund the global fight against bird flu.
Participants at the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza are expected to promise donations today; and endorse a Beijing declaration which reflects the political will of the world to combat the epidemic.
Deputy Director-General of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wang Xiaolong sits with other officials at the opening ceremony of the "International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza" in a hotel in Beijing January 17, 2006. [Reuters]
The two-day meeting, sponsored by China, the European Commission and the World Bank, comes at a time when the bird flu contagion is becoming more aggressive and its control hamstrung 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 a speech to launch the conference yesterday.
Therefore, the gathering assumes great significance in mobilizing necessary resources and technical assistance and enhancing international co-operation, Qiao told nearly 700 representatives from more than 100 countries and a score of world organizations.
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.
"It will be possible to meet this gap only 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, the organization said in a statement released at the conference yesterday.
Since the first reports of H5N1 outbreaks in Asia in late 2003, bird flu has killed or prompted culling of nearly 140 million domestic poultry, and has now reached the gates of Europe. The fatal strain of the virus has been contracted by nearly 150 people in six countries, and killed more than half of the victims.
International decision makers, experts and organizations gathered yesterday to summarize the outcome of a major world meeting at Geneva in early November that addressed the H5N1 threat, and discuss 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 capacities 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, yesterday 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 don'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 both of avian flu and a future pandemic."