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[BEIJING] The global fight against bird flu was given a boost yesterday (18 January), with donors pledging US$1.9 billion — much more than expected.

At the international fund-raising conference in Beijing, governments made a joint declaration that national action plans must be "guided by political leadership at the highest level".

The meeting, co-sponsored by China, the European Commission and the World Bank, was intended to address the lack of funds that is limiting efforts to contain the spread of bird flu.

Reflecting the international community's increased sense of urgency and determination, pledges made at the end of the Beijing meeting exceeded the US$1.2 billion anticipated by the World Bank.

"What we've seen today is that the world really does care and wants to respond effectively to the threat of avian influenza, and a possible human pandemic," said David Nabarro, the UN coordinator on avian and human influenza.

Addressing the meeting in a video message, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said that to be truly prepared, the world must mount a massive effort, from upgrading veterinary systems and launching vaccination drives, to encouraging change in the ways people live with animals.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao proposed creating a global cooperation mechanism for bird flu prevention and control.

As part of this, he said China is ready to cooperate with other nations and international organisations to develop effective vaccines and drugs against bird flu.

The Beijing Declaration, adopted at the end of the meeting by 700 delegates from 100 nations, said the international community must give long-term support to those countries that are affected or at risk of future bird flu outbreaks.

Indonesian delegate Aburizal Bakrie agreed: "Without international cooperation and financial support, Indonesia will face major difficulties in further developing and implementing its national strategy."

Bird flu has killed 79 of the 148 people that the World Health Organization says were infected since late 2003. China, Indonesia and Turkey have all reported human deaths from the virus this week.

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