MANILA, PHILIPPINES - ADB is planning $58 million in grant projects to help stem the growing avian influenza threat in Asia and the Pacific before it grows into a human pandemic that costs the region millions of lives and tens of billions of dollars.
ADB has already prepared for consideration by ADB's Board of Directors in November a $30 million grant project for regional communicable disease control in Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Viet Nam.
"The planned project will help the region improve control of various endemic and emerging communicable diseases - including avian flu - within the framework of the Greater Mekong Subregion cooperation program," explains Vincent de Wit, an ADB Senior Health Specialist.
But with increasing risk of a pandemic, more efforts are necessary and another $28 million grant project to specifically address the avian flu problem will be prepared in close coordination with technical agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and other development partners.
It will support countries in controlling and managing existing outbreaks of avian flu, prepare the region to effectively cope with a potential human pandemic, and strengthen regional cooperation to fight the epidemic (including more effective sharing of information).
The planned project will support the regional effort to improve disease surveillance systems, strengthen countries' response to outbreaks among the animal and human population, and boost health systems' readiness. Stockpiles of necessary drugs and equipment may need to be created, and logistics for the supply and using of the drugs has to be planned.
ADB is already involved in combating the bird flu epidemic, in particular through its support to WHO's Manila office, covering the Western Pacific region, under a regional technical assistance project that was established to address the SARS outbreak in 2003. ADB plans to allocate an extra $600,000 to continue its support and extend this cooperation to WHO's Southeast Asia office, based in Delhi.
The current outbreak, which began at the end of 2003, has already had an impact on poor and rural communities. Almost 140 million domestic birds have either died or been destroyed, and more than 60 people are known to have died.
According to ADB preliminary estimates, the various stages of a growing human pandemic would have widespread and serious implications for economic development and the welfare of people in the region and beyond.
As demonstrated by the SARS crisis in 2003, the present outbreak may evolve and have a devastating effect. ADB estimates that even a relatively mild pandemic could cost the region around $90 billion to $110 billion due to the effects of reduced consumption, investment, and trade. The loss of workers due to death and incapacity could cost an additional $15 billion. A more severe outbreak would likely lead to a global recession, costing the region $250 billion to $290 billion in the short run. Many economic activities would be brought to a halt, while the health systems of most countries would be overwhelmed.
"It is critical that prevention activities are undertaken in a coordinated manner, since epidemics such as this one do not respect national boundaries," says Jacques Jeugmans, an ADB Principal Health Specialist. "It is also important to share information about outbreaks to ensure an effective and quick response. If we want to contain the avian flu epidemic and prevent a pandemic, we need to work with local communities, where farmers who observe their chickens dying in the backyards are on the front line, but also most at risk."
Countries need significant support - both financial and technical - to strengthen animal and human epidemiological surveillance systems, develop effective and safe systems for rapid response to reported outbreaks, and treat the disease.
"ADB is well placed to play an important role in strengthening a regional response to prevent and control the potential pandemic," Mr. Jeugmans adds. "We are based in the region, are already working with all the countries that have experienced outbreaks, have the ability to take the multi-sectoral approach that this challenge needs, and have the experience of undertaking complex projects."