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African leaders brainstorm on BF

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    Posted: April 23 2006 at 8:45pm
    African leaders brainstorm on bird flu

Blantyre - Veterinary and wildlife experts from 19 African countries on Monday begin a five-day meeting in Malawi to discuss better surveillance against bird flu, which has hit five countries on the continent.

"The bird flu pandemic poses a devastating effect to millions of people in Africa who depend heavily on poultry for both income and food," Mazlan Jusoh, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) country representative in Malawi, said in a statement issued on Sunday.

"The FAO reiterates the urgent need to increase surveillance and early detection of bird flu to mitigate an outbreak," he said, ahead of the meeting in the capital Lilongwe.

"In Malawi as is the case in many African countries, inadequate medical, veterinary and laboratory services, limited animal and human health education and the high levels of poverty make more people vulnerable," he said.

Jusoh said that alongside surveillance, countries must "step up public awareness campaigns and put in place rapid response mechanisms to reduce socio-economic impact of the disease".

In February, Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, reported the first cases in Africa, followed by Egypt, Niger and Cameroon. This month, Sudan confirmed the presence of the virus in poultry in Khartoum.

Experts attending the conference will come from Botswana, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Avian influenza is a contagious disease, which mostly affects birds but it can occasionally infect humans.

The highly pathogenic form, the H5N1 strain, spreads very rapidly through poultry flocks and has a mortality that can approach 100 percent within 48 hours.

The H5N1 virus has struck poultry flocks in dozens of countries and claimed more than a hundred human lives.

Experts fear that it could mutate into a form that can be transmitted from human to human, creating a risk of a pandemic that could kill millions of people. - Sapa-AFP
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