Swiss pledge extra cash to combat bird flu

Hospital employees wait for a suspected bird flu patient in Turkey Keystone

On the eve of a major bird flu donor conference in Beijing, Switzerland has committed a further SFr1.1 million ($860,000) towards controlling the virus in Asia.

This content was published on January 16, 2006 - 21:39

The contribution comes on top of the SFr4.8 million earmarked in September to help countries fight bird flu and avert a possible human pandemic.

Nations around the world are expected to pledge at least $1 billion (SFr1.3 billion) at the two-day donor conference, which gets underway on Tuesday. China, the World Bank and the European Commission are jointly hosting the meeting.

According to the World Bank, up to $1.5 billion is needed to help countries combat the deadly H5N1 virus, which has already claimed at least 79 lives.

The money is designed to strengthen health and veterinary services in countries dealing with outbreaks and to prepare for a potential human flu pandemic.

"For the moment this disease is not under control and we are certain now that in East Asia it has already become endemic," Thomas Jemmi, head of international affairs at the Federal Veterinary Office and Switzerland's delegate in Beijing, told swissinfo.

"The likelihood is stronger that it will spread worldwide, with increased risk that there will be a re-assortment of viruses which may lead to a new pandemic strain.

"We have to show action now and this donor conference is an opportunity for the international community to support affected countries."

Genetic change

Last week preliminary tests on bird flu samples from Turkey detected a genetic change that had been seen in previous human cases in Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Most human cases of H5N1 have been traced to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans, possibly sparking a pandemic.

Switzerland, which in September pledged SFr4.8 million for Food and Agriculture Organization projects to fight bird flu in Asia, has now announced a further increase in aid.

"Around SFr1.1 million will be added for World Health Organization and specific country development programmes," said Jemmi.

"At the moment we have this huge problem on the animal side and we have to fight the disease at its source. We believe that if we can get the animal disease under control the risk of a possible human pandemic will be lower."

Flu pandemic

Last week the World Bank, which estimates that a flu pandemic lasting a year could cost the global economy up to $800 billion, approved $500 million in aid for avian flu.

The European Union announced on Friday that it would be pledging $100 million at the conference, which is expected to attract over 90 countries and 25 international organisations.

"We'd like to mobilise somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1.2 billion. We think that's an achievable target," said Jim Adams, vice-president of the World Bank.

The conference follows a global bird flu coordination meeting held two months ago in Geneva, which brought together more than 600 participants from 100 countries.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont and agencies

Key facts

The Federal Veterinary Office last week extended an import ban on poultry products to six of Turkey's neighbours.
It said checks on flights into Switzerland from Turkey were being strictly enforced.
The Swiss government is stockpiling enough Tamiflu to cover a quarter of the population.

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In brief

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche is to donate a further two million treatment doses of its anti-viral drug Tamiflu to the World Health Organization, a WHO official said on Tuesday.

Roche has already given the WHO three million treatments of the drug, which is thought to be the best defence against the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

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