Fifteen new suspected cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus were reported last week in five governorates in Egypt as government measures to strengthen national pandemic preparedness provoked mixed reactions in Cairo's streets.
According to local media, the latest cases were detected in Qena, Al-Buheira, Al-Gharbia, Al-Minya and Al-Sohag. The patients were admitted to hospital for treatment and surveillance after suffering high temperatures and breathing problems.
In response, the government’s Supreme National Committee for Combating Bird Flu met last week to discuss the current outbreak and to implement measures to combat the spread of bird flu.
Amr Kandeel, an official in the Ministry of Health’s communicable diseases department, told IRIN that the bird flu committee is focusing on five measures to curb the spread of the virus: active surveillance; public awareness campaigns; support of public health teams in hospitals; stockpiling of flu treatment drug Tamiflu, antiviral medications and vaccination equipment; and the setting up of a telephone hotline to answer public enquiries.
In addition, Kandeel said the Ministry of Agriculture had banned the sale of live birds in Cairo’s markets. "Poultry sellers who do not abide by the protection measures will face forced closure of their shops," he said in a phone interview.
Photo: Martina Fuchs/IRIN
|Empty bird cages in a poultry shop in Cairo, following a recent government crackdown on the sale of live poultry in the capital|
Reactions from the street
While empty bird cages in many of Cairo’s poultry shops reflect the efficiency of the government crackdown, many in the poultry business said they would ignore the ban as they felt the government was over-reacting.
One poultry seller in Old Cairo’s Khan El-Khalili market, who refused to reveal his name fearing arrest, said he would continue to sell live chicken covertly.
Nabil Khadar, another poultry seller, was critical of the government’s anti-bird flu initiatives. "I have heard about bird flu - it’s famous nowadays," he said. "But there is nothing here; this disease comes from outside [the country]. I am not scared because our chicken is good and healthy but the government wants to scare us. Chicken is the cornerstone of our economy; it’s cheap and nourishes our families."
Poultry is the main source of food and income for about five million households across Egypt. As such, a large number of people keep and raise domestic poultry, making it difficult to eradicate bird flu completely, the government says.
Two weeks ago, the bird flu committee banned domestic poultry raising altogether and oversaw the culling of all poultry infected with the bird flu virus. It also reinforced an existing ban on transporting poultry from one governorate to another without official inspection and clearance.
Business as usual
Photo: Martina Fuchs/IRIN
|In rural areas of Egypt, it is common to see live poultry on sale|
Despite such restrictions, those in the restaurant business say it is business as usual.
"There is no danger that bird flu could hurt my business,” Ahmed Arafa, manager of the Midan Hussein branch of the Gad restaurant chain, said while watching one of his employees scrape chicken meat off a grill to make a shawarma sandwich for a customer. “My customers are not scared. I buy my chicken from the big farms in the countryside where hygiene standards and medical controls are better."
Since the H5N1 strain of bird flu was first detected in Egypt in February 2006, the country has had the largest number of human bird flu cases outside the Asian continent. Four deaths at the turn of this year brought the number of fatalities caused by bird flu in Egypt to 19.
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