UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- A more coordinated international plan is needed to fight a possible human bird flu pandemic, the United Nations said Wednesday at a Beijing conference.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged countries to share information, biological material and scientific expertise, provide essential medicines to those in need and galvanize international efforts "with a minimum of red tape and quibbling," in a video message aired at the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Influenza.
"To be truly prepared, we will need to mount a massive effort - from upgrading veterinary systems and launching vaccination drives, to encouraging change in the ways people coexist with animals," said Annan, emphasizing the cost of action now is small compared to the price of tackling a pandemic.
The two-day conference sponsored by the Chinese government, European Union and the World Bank raised $1.9 in pledges to confront bird flu which the World Bank estimated will cost $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion to tackle.
Since the first human case of the latest avian influenza outbreak was reported in 2003, U.N. agencies have been working with health organizations and government agencies to curb the spread of the deadly disease.
There have been 148 cases of bird flu including 79 deaths since 2003, according to the World Health Organization.
The WHO has warned the virus could evolve into a human influenza pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people.
The disease is contagious and spread by excrement from migratory birds and from human interaction with infected animals. H5N1 is a particular concern because it mutates rapidly, said the WHO.
U.N. health officials have said a human flu pandemic is inevitable.