Bird flu 'high risk' in South Asia
World Bank warns of possible recession from outbreak
Indian health workers transport a load of chickens for slaughter earlier this year.
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(CNN) -- South Asia is a high-risk region for bird flu and a consequent economic recession because of the large role that poultry plays in the lives of many people there, the World Bank has warned.
It says a severe outbreak could cut South Asia's output by almost 5 percent, creating a major recession in the region and disrupting trade and transport.
There have been no reports yet of human cases of bird flu in South Asia, though poultry in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been affected.
Since February, hundreds of thousands of chickens have been culled and poultry farms shut in those three countries.
The bank's Director of Human Development in South Asia, Julian Schweitzer, said this week: "When you have humans and chickens living in close proximity, the threat of human H5N1 infection is that much larger."
He said the economic consequences of avian flu mutating into a form allowing human-to-human transmission would be "gigantic."
"There would be huge economic disruption in trade, goods, food and transport of all types."
Schweitzer said high population density, illiteracy and weak health infrastructure added to the challenges facing parts of South Asia.
The region has almost a quarter of the world's population, with India alone having more than 1.1 billion people.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been 225 cases of the bird flu virus in humans, with 128 deaths since the outbreaks began in Southeast Asia in 2003.
The most deaths have occurred in Vietnam, with 42 deaths from 93 confirmed cases, and Indonesia, with 37 deaths from 49 cases. Thailand has had 14 deaths and China 12. The most recent death was in Indonesia on May 30.
Schweitzer said India in particular had been affected by outbreaks in poultry this year, but had responded quickly to cull large numbers of birds in the districts of Nandurbar and Jalgaon in Maharashtra state.
Culling raised the question of compensation to affected farmers, he said.
"It is absolutely critical to compensate farmers to avoid the risk of having farmers not report cases of the virus," he said.
The bank is stepping up its capacity to deal with the economic impact of a human epidemic. This includes helping to strengthen the diagnostic capability so outbreaks can be detected quickly; helping farmers manage their poultry; and improving the response of health systems.
India has been on a high-growth track in recent years, so any regional recession would be a significant setback to its economic ambitions.
The bird flu outbreaks which began in Southeast Asia in 2003 have since spread to parts of Europe and Africa.
Public health experts and other officials are meeting in Vienna this week to follow up on pledges of financial support made at a donors conference held in Beijing in January.
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