Brussels, 13 January 2006 (RFE/RL) – The European Commission has pledged to set aside $100 million (80 million euros) to fight the spread and effects of avian influenza across the world.
The EU's decision, announced on 13 January, comes a few days before a meeting in the Chinese capital Beijing at which over 90 countries and 25 international organizations will take stock of the threat posed by bird flu and how to react to it. EU officials say the 25-member bloc will be among the largest donors present at the conference, which will be held on 17-18 January.
Individual member states will add more, said the EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
The European Union is acutely aware of the threat posed by avian flu as the disease has repeatedly appeared at its doorstep, most recently in Turkey, where, since the start of 2006, three people have died of the disease and dozens more have been infected. Last year, cases of avian flu were detected in neighboring Croatia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.
Ferrero-Waldner says most of the money is reserved for Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. But she added that some of it will go towards meeting the possible needs of the Central Asian countries, and Russia and Ukraine.
"I can tell you that for Asia, in principle, we have thought of 30 million [euros, $36 million], 5 million [euros] for Central Asia, then 30 million for the ACP [African and Caribbean and Pacific countries] countries, 10 million for the Mediterranean countries, and 5 million for the neighborhood countries in the eastern areas," Ferrero-Waldner said." So, if there were indeed a problem there, there is still money for them."
Most of the money will only be released to the target countries to meet new threats, such as fresh outbreaks of bird flu or a possible human pandemic.
"This is money in case there are problems and in case [these countries] need assistance from our side," Ferrero-Waldner. "This is money focused on avian flu and, of course, the combat[ing] of avian flu."
Countries already facing imminent threats will qualify for aid immediately. So far, 4 million euros ($4.8 million) has been earmarked for Turkey.
The Importance Of Early Detection
The EU health commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, said his first concern is to work with those countries most affected by avian-flu outbreaks to increase surveillance of domestic birds and wildfowl, as well as of the general population.
The importance of early detection, Kyprianou said, is one of the lessons drawn from the recent experience of Turkey, where the disease has spread very quickly and claimed an unusually high number of human victims.
Kyprianou noted that the larger the country, the more difficult that task becomes.
"Surveillance, and close monitoring is a very important factor, and I understand that in big countries in rural areas in border areas that's not always easy; there are objective reasons making it difficult."
The EU also flagged its desire to work with its neighbors and other countries to boost contingency planning for further outbreaks -- possibly among humans -- and to prepare their health systems for the effects of such outbreaks, as well as to ensure effective coordination of the response and a smooth and efficient exchange of information between countries.
Kyprianou said the EU is also thinking of measures to alleviate the effects of avian flu on poultry industries. He noted that a 2003 outbreak of a milder version of the virus in the Netherlands had cost the country's farmers 150 million euros ($180 million).
The fear is that the flu virus will mutate and become transmittable between humans. The EU health commissioner said he is aware of reports that the deadly H5N1 virus currently in Turkey has produced some mutations, but underscored the fact that all known human cases in Turkey had contracted the disease from birds.