Swine flu 'could kill millions
UN report says pandemic may result in anarchy unless
western world pays for antiviral drugs and vaccine
flu pandemic could
kill millions and cause anarchy in the world's poorest nations
unless £900m can be raised from rich countries to pay for vaccines
and antiviral medicines, says a UN report leaked to the Observer.
The disclosure will provoke concerns that health officials will not
be able to stem the growth of the worldwide H1N1 pandemic in
developing countries. If the virus takes hold in the poorest
nations, millions could die and the economies of fragile countries
could be destroyed.
Health ministers around the globe were sent the warning on Thursday
in a report on the costs of averting a humanitarian disaster in the
next few months. It comes as officials inside the World
Health Organisation, the UN's public health body, said they
feared they would not be able to raise half that amount because of
the global downturn.
Gregory Hartl of WHO said the report required an urgent response
from rich nations. "There needs to be recognition that the whole
world is affected by this pandemic and the chain is only as strong
as its weakest link. We have seen how H1N1 has taken hold in richer
nations and in the southern hemisphere. We have been given fair
warning and must act soon," he said.
The report was drawn up by UN officials over the last two months. It
was commissioned in July after Ban ki-moon, the UN's secretary
general, expressed concern that the H1NI virus could have a severe
impact on the world's poorest countries.
It paints a disastrous picture for the world's most vulnerable
people unless there is immediate action. "There is a window in which
it will be possible to help poor countries get as ready as they can
for H1N1 and that window is closing rapidly," it says.
"Countries where health services are overburdened by diseases, such
as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, will have great difficulty
managing the surge of cases. And if the electricity and water
sectors are not able to maintain services, this will have serious
implications for the ability of the health sector to function.
"If suppliers of fuel, food, telecommunications, finance or
transport services have not developed plans as to how they would
continue to deliver their services, the consequences could be
significantly intensified," it adds.
The 47-page report provides a detailed breakdown of the basic needs
of 75 vulnerable countries with the weakest capacity to withstand an
escalation of the virus. Six countries from Latin America, including
Cuba and Bolivia, 21 countries from Asia and the Pacific such as
North Korea and Bangladesh, and 40 countries from Africa such as
Congo and Eritrea are included in the survey.
UN officials say in the report that £700m should be spent on
antiviral drugs and vaccines to protect health care workers and
other essential personnel as well as cover those suffering from
severe illness. They have identified 85 countries that do not have
the ability to access vaccines from any other source and intend to
cover 5-10% of each population.
A further £147m should be put aside to organise vaccine campaigns,
improve communications, monitor levels of illness and improve
laboratory capacity in 61 countries, the report claims. The
remainder should be used to pay for the WHO and other UN-related
organisations to help in these countries as well as an emergency
fund for additional antiviral medicines, it argues.
The UN's efforts were boosted last week when nine countries,
including Britain and the US, pledged to give the equivalent of a
10% share of their swine flu vaccine supply to help fight the deadly
virus's global spread. In Britain, Douglas Alexander, the
development secretary, pledged to give £23m.
Some officials within WHO believe, however, that this will not be
enough. One said that richer countries were reluctant to pay out all
of the money that was needed. "The downturn means that governments
countries are reluctant to give," he said.
Another said: "The money is a trickle, not a flood. It is going to
be a struggle. If we are not careful, the virus could destroy a
burgeoning economy or democracy."
The UN's request for the money comes as the virus begins to
establish itself in some of the world's most vulnerable countries.
On Wednesday, health officials told one website that the African
continent had recorded 8,187 confirmed cases of swine flu and 41
Swine flu was declared a pandemic in June and has since been
identified in 180 countries. Pandemic experts believe that the
western world, including Britain, is facing a second wave of the