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More effort needed to prevent avian flu

[Senegal] Whole, live, Senegalese birds are squeezed out of the market by frozen thighs and wings, imported from Europe and America. [Date picture taken: 12/16/2005]
Claire Soares/IRIN
The dead chicken are to be tested for avian flu.
Eastern Africa, which lies on the migratory path of birds that may be infected with avian influenza, must establish more effective preventive measures against the deadly virus, an official of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. "Several countries in East and the Horn of Africa - Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania - all the way down to South Africa, are on the migratory path of wild birds from Asia and Europe that are suspected to carry the virus," said Michel Yao, WHO intercountry focal point for the Great Lakes and Central Africa. Yao said because these countries also had very high populations of "backyard poultry", people were also at increased risk OF coming into contact with sick birds. So far, no cases of the virulent H5N1 form of the flu have been found in the Horn of Africa. Dead migratory birds suspected of having succumbed to the virus in Ethiopia last December tested negative for avian flu. Better surveillance is needed in order to detect the virus early, Yao said. "They need to be able to detect the disease, right from the death of a bird," he said. "WHO has a network of labs across Africa to improve the surveillance, and we are working with some countries to upgrade and improve their laboratory facilities." In Uganda, health ministry spokesman Paul Kaggwa said surveillance sites had been set up in the east of the country, in areas where migratory birds usually perch. "We are telling people in the region that they should not eat these birds, because they are used to shooting them down and eating them," Kaggwa said. Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have also banned poultry imports from countries hit by the virus. Yao stressed that all countries in the region needed to have "preparedness plans" in case of an avian flu outbreak. "Kenya has completed its national action plan, which was presented at the global pledging meeting in China 16-19th January," he said. "The next step is on implementation of plan. Priority will be given to strengthening surveillance in order to facilitate early case detection." Kaggwa said a national task force had been established in Uganda to address the possible outbreak of avian flu. It includes experts from the ministries of health, agriculture, trade, tourism and officials from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. "We have started awareness programmes to teach people about the flu, and the team is monitoring the corridors that the birds that fly from Europe use when they pass through Uganda," Kaggwa said. The largely rural nature of the populations in the region means that public awareness campaigns are extremely important. "People at every level, especially children, must be educated on the disease - for example, what to do with a dead bird," Yao said. Children are particularly at risk because they often share their play space with livestock, including poultry. WHO advised that children be taught to avoid all contact with birds, their feathers and faeces. People should also wash their hands with soap and water after any contact with poultry. The European Centers for Disease Control has advised people not to touch dead birds. It also recommended that poultry products be cooked thoroughly. Yao noted that Tamiflu, the drug used globally to treat avian flu in humans, was in short supply. "Because there is not enough Tamiflu for everyone around the world, it is important to concentrate on preventing the disease and developing intervention plans to prepare for possible outbreaks," he added. Improving surveillance, training health workers, stockpiling flu vaccines for birds and increasing public awareness were all key steps to ensure the region was adequately prepared, he said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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