$1.9 billion is pledged to fight bird flu

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BEIJING -- Alarmed by a surge in bird flu infections and deaths in Turkey, 33 countries and multilateral institutions pledged $1.9 billion yesterday to fight the disease.

The pledges, at the conclusion of a two-day conference here, are considerably greater than the $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion that the World Bank had said was needed over the next three years.

The money will pay for such tasks as strengthening veterinary and medical surveillance for outbreaks, stockpiling surgical masks and other protective equipment, and expanding research.

James Adams, the World Bank's vice president for operations policy and country services, said the oversubscription would make it possible for poor countries to rely more on grants than loans in fighting the disease.

The $1.9 billion includes $1 billion in grants and $900 million in loans, including $500 million in World Bank loans.

Poor countries in Asia have been leery of borrowing heavily to fight a disease that has become a global problem.

Migratory birds have carried the virus out of southern China and Southeast Asia to infect chickens around the Black Sea and in the Caucasus, leading to illnesses in at least 20 people in Turkey.

The oversubscription also makes it somewhat less likely that money will have to be taken from existing economic development programs to pay for fighting bird flu, Adams said.

The United States pledged $334 million in grants, for example, of which $31.3 million is money transferred from funds previously earmarked for helping survivors of the Asian tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.

But $280 million comes from bird-flu-related legislation passed by Congress just before Christmas, and $22.7 million comes mostly from allocating money previously set aside for international health issues, American officials said.

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