Bird flu could kill between 1.4 and 140 million people - Australian researchers

Friday, February 17, 2006

Two Australian researchers at the Australian National University estimate that a global pandemic of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu could kill between 1.4 and 140 million humans and cause a global recession. They will formally present their research to the Lowy Institute in Sydney today.

Professor Warwick McKibbin, a well respected economic modeller, member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia and health expert and Dr Alexandra Sidorenko modelled the effect of a bird flu pandemic on human health and the global economy. Their study looks at four possible scenarios - mild, moderate, severe and extreme.

Under the mild scenario, they predict that 1.4 million people worldwide and 2,100 Australians would die. The extreme scenario predicts 140 million worldwide deaths with 214,000 Australians among them. 30 percent of the Australian population would be expected to become infected should a pandemic occur.

In the extreme case, the global ecomomy would suffer losses of US$4.4 trillion or 12.6 percent.

Prof. McKibbin says that his economic estimates do not only include the cost of death but also for lost productivity. In an interview with ABC, Professor McKibbin said "Firstly, there's a reduction in the labour force. Now, interestingly it's not just that people die which is causing economic loss, but actually there is a substantial amount of illness in any influenza pandemic. "

"And so we try and capture both the death and the impact of that on the economy as well as illness during the pandemic, and including the fact that different economies have different labour market structures and that it's not just workers that get sick but also children, and we try to model the fact that carers will be taking time off work. " said Prof. McKibbin.

Pandemics have broken out every 10 to 40 years since the 19th century. The last pandemic was in 1968 caused by the Hong Kong flu.

"It is 37 years since the last pandemic and many argue that another pandemic is overdue," warns the report. The report advises investment in Asia, where health systems are less developed.