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Fighting Influenza

In December 2006, donors pledged nearly half-a-billion dollars in new assistance to stem the spread of avian influenza. The pledges were made at the recent International Conference on Avian Influenza held in Bamako, Mali, hosted by the government of Mali and the African Union in conjunction with the European Union.

President George W. Bush emphasized the U.S. commitment to fighting the virus globally when he announced the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza in September 2005. The President said, "If left unchallenged, this virus could become the first pandemic of the 21st century. We must not allow that to happen."

At the conference in Bamako, Ambassador John E. Lange, U.S. Special Representative on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, said: “Within the last year, avian influenza in poultry has spread from fourteen countries to fifty-five including eight African nations. “Preparedness and long-term capacity building requires collaboration on the international, regional, national, and community levels,” he said.

Dr. Kent Hill is the Assistant Administrator for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development. “Africa faces a complex of problems of food, water, and poor health infrastructure . . . Building human and animal health capacity is key to helping Africa fight this virus, and humanitarian assistance is needed as well.”

Ron DeHaven is administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He says, "Although considerable progress has been made to attack this virus in birds in recent months, there is much left to do."

Since the first appearance of avian flu in Nigeria in February, seven other African countries have reported cases – Cameroon, Niger, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Burkina-Faso, Sudan, and Djibouti. Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, said, "Africa must be a priority for support in the fight against avian influenza."

Transmitted by commercial poultry and wild birds, avian flu has remained primarily an animal disease. But if the virus mutates into a form that is easily spread among people, a global pandemic could result and millions of people could be at risk.

"The concern that we have in Africa, we have problems because either the message does not get to the farmer or the message gets to the farmer and the farmer is afraid to report it, because he or she may lose the poultry, and [they think] it may be better to move them to a neighboring village or a neighboring country."

The U.S. has pledged $434 million to international avian and pandemic influenza assistance efforts, the largest single country contribution.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.