DHAKA (Reuters) - The United States is increasing funding to help Bangladesh fight bird flu, saying the densely populated country is at high risk of pandemic if the virus jumped to humans, a top U.S. aid official said on Sunday.
"Bangladesh is particularly in high risk because of its dense population. If this virus transmits to people it would be a pandemic," U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator Kent R. Hill said in Dhaka.
Bird flu was first detected near the capital in March and has since spread mostly to northern districts and forced authorities to cull 274,000 chickens and destroy nearly 3 million eggs.
About 4 million Bangladeshis are directly or indirectly associated with poultry farming, but so far there have been no cases of human infection, government and health officials said.
"USAID has already committed $3 million to fight bird flu in Bangladesh. And in coming days it will rise to $5 million," Hill told a news conference during his three-day visit to Bangladesh to review USAID's health programmes in the region.
From 1971 to 2006, USAID has provided Bangladesh more than $5 billion in development assistance, with over half of that amount in food aid. In 2007, USAID provided $78 million in development assistance to impoverished Bangladesh.
Hill said USAID will provide $173 million over the next five years to fund programmes supporting maternal and child health, family planning, tuberculosis eradication and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
USAID has provided $19.5 million in emergency aid for survivors of a deadly cyclone that hit Bangladesh last month, killing more than 3,200 people and affecting more than 8.7 million.
"In the coming days more funds will be allocated for the rehabilitation (of the cyclone survivors)," Hill said.