The world remains unprepared to cope with a pandemic in humans arising from bird flu, a UN and World Bank report released Thursday found.
"Although a massive global effort to control highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (or severe bird flu) has led to improved responses to outbreaks in poultry in many countries during the last year, there is a continuing risk of a virus mutation which results in severe and easily transmitted influenza in humans, potentially precipitating an influenza pandemic," said the report by the UN System Influenza Coordinator, Briton David Nabarro, and the World Bank.
"The pandemic threat has led most governments to improve services to detect, contain and lessen the impact of dangerous pathogens," it said.
"However, many national pandemic plans are not sufficiently operational and the coordination of pandemic planning between countries needs greater attention," it added, ahead of an international conference set to discuss related issues December 4-6 in New Delhi.
Nabarro was quoted in the report as saying that "pathogens are becoming more mobile as a result of increases in international travel and trade and changes in ecosystems."
"The long term security of the human race requires all nations to prepare together -- so that when new disease outbreaks and pandemics do occur, responses will be adequate and meet the needs of all people and not just a fortunate few," he added.
Most countries over the past two years have upgraded veterinary services and improved detection abilities.
"But there are still around six countries in which we believe that the virus is what we call enzootic, meaning it's continuously present and being passed between poultry.
"The most obvious one of these is Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, with 1.4 billion poultry, where the virus is being continuously transmitted in at least half the districts in the country," he said.
Bird flu has led to the death of 157 people since 2003, out of a total of 261 human cases reported. Millions of poultry have also been destroyed.
The WHO fears that the virus could mutate into a form that makes it contagious for humans.
British medical journal The Lancet predicted in December that if the disease has the same ferocity as the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-20, fatalities could reach 51-81 million worldwide, with 96 percent of deaths occurring in the developing world.