By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Some success has been achieved in reducing avian influenza outbreaks in poultry and humans, but the world must still be prepared to tackle an influenza pandemic, experts were told at the sixth International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza in Sharm El Sheikh, Eqypt this weekend. Photo: avian flu blood sampling / UNSIC

“Things are a lot better now than they were when we started this work in 2005 but they are not good enough. We are still not sufficiently prepared to properly bring a pandemic under control quickly,” David Nabarro, senior UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza, told news agency IRIN.

Compensation for farmers affected by bird flu helps the early detection of new outbreaks, the U.N’s avian influenza chief said yesterday (October 26), but refrained from criticizing countries like Egypt that lack such programs, according to Reuters.

Cambodia and Egypt are the only countries heavily affected by bird flu that do not offer some form of compensation.

“In our view, compensation for the value of birds that are destroyed for the control of avian influenza is important if public cooperation is to occur,” Mr Nabarro told Reuters’ Alastair Sharp.

The United States pledged an additional $320 million to the global fight against bird flu and warned on Saturday against complacency in combating the virus, which could mutate and cause a deadly pandemic.

The figure brings to $949 million Washington’s total pledges to fight avian influenza, which has killed 245 people in Asia, Africa, and Europe since late 2003. Countless birds have been culled.

“The United States is pledging an additional $320 million in international assistance for avian and pandemic influenza,” said Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

At the opening of a ministerial conference in Egypt, Dobriansky echoed comments from Egyptian ministers and heads of international organisations in warning of “flu fatigue”.

“(There is) a growing feeling that the threat of an influenza pandemic has somehow diminished and that scarce resources could be better used elsewhere in the field of public health, in other words flu fatigue,” she said.

Read more coverage from the conference