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Ciptapangan Visitor
Bird Flu Is `Risk' for South Asia, World Bank Says
posted by admin on 08/06/06

A spread of the virus among humans would cause a recession in the region.

June 7 (Bloomberg) -- Bird flu is a ``high risk'' for India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries because of the number of poultry kept in the region, where a spread of the virus among humans would cause a recession, the World Bank said. 

``The economic consequences of a human-to-human transmission would be gigantic,'' said Julian Schweitzer, the World Bank's director for human development in South Asia. 
``There would be huge economic disruption - trade, goods, food, and transport of all types.'' 

No human cases of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza have been reported in South Asia even as hundreds of thousands of chickens were culled in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan since February to contain outbreaks in fowl, the World Bank said in a June 5 statement. The virus may create a flu pandemic if it mutates into a form that's easily spread among people. 

South Asia is home to almost a quarter of the world's population, according to statistics released by the World Bank in April. The Bank, which funds projects to alleviate poverty, is working with developing countries to improve hospitals and laboratories to bolster disease surveillance and management of H5N1 cases. 

Since late 2003, the virus has sickened at least 225 people in 10 countries, killing 128 of them, the World Health Organization said yesterday. More than eight of every 10 H5N1 cases occurred in Asia. 

H5N1 has killed two-thirds of those confirmed to be infected this year, prompting concern that a pandemic form of avian flu would be lethal. People have no natural immunity to H5N1. 

Major Recession 

A severe avian flu pandemic in South Asia might reduce output by almost 5 percent of gross domestic product, constituting a major recession, the World Bank said. 

``The risk is much higher in countries which don't have the systems in place to carry out effective surveillance,'' said Schweitzer. ``That is certainly the case in many South Asian countries.'' 

Asia's avian flu cases aren't being reported to international agencies fast enough, threatening to delay a response to a flu pandemic, according to a draft report prepared for government and agency officials meeting in Vienna this week. 

Reporting Delays 

Human cases are taking seven days on average to be reported to world health officials, and national governments in the Asia- Pacific region are finding out five days after symptoms appear, according to the draft report. Delays in finding and isolating cases risk exposing people to the virus and increase opportunities for it to mutate into a pandemic form. 

The report, written by organizations donating funds to combat avian and human influenza threats, is being discussed at the Influenza Partners' Senior Officials Meeting. The two-day meeting, which began yesterday in Vienna, is being hosted by the European Union, the U.S. and China. 

Members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are testing emergency response and communication channels in a pandemic influenza simulation exercise today. Officials from around the region will make decisions based on a hypothetical scenario in which a mutated bird flu virus has begun spreading among people, causing a pandemic, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a June 5 e-mail. 

Chickens in Asia 

Much of the avian flu risk in South Asia stems from the large volume of poultry kept in backyards and allowed to roam freely in villages. More than 772 million chickens were raised last year in the region, which also includes Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

``When you have humans and chickens living in close proximity, the threat of human H5N1 infection is that much larger,'' Schweitzer said. 

Indian authorities in February culled more than 500,000 fowl in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states to stem outbreaks. Farmers were paid compensation to ease the financial burden and to encourage the reporting of infected flocks. 

``In India, authorities moved very quickly to cull a very large number of birds, and this seems to have prevented a further spreading,'' Schweitzer said. ``It is absolutely critical to compensate farmers to avoid the risk of having farmers not report cases of the virus.''

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jason Gale in Singapore at
Last Updated: June 7, 2006 00:37 EDT

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