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Communities key to bird flu control, says Red Cross in southern Africa

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  • Communities key to bird flu control, says Red Cross in southern Africa

    Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
    Date: 24 Feb 2006

    Communities key to bird flu control, says Red Cross in southern Africa

    By Tapiwa Gomo, Harare

    The arrival of the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus in Africa has become a major cause of concern for many African countries, but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in southern Africa believes empowering the communities with sanitation and hygiene information may be a panacea in reducing the impact of the outbreak. The regional office of the Federation in southern Africa made the announcement following a technical health emergency response task force meeting to brainstorm on the possible intervention should the influenza hit the southern half of the continent.

    This comes in the wake of recent reports in Nigeria where a large-scale slaughtering was carried out at one of the farms where hundreds of thousands of chickens have reportedly died of the deadly bird flu. No human cases of bird flu have been found in Africa, although Nigeria chicken farmers are being screened. ?As a region, we feel that we need to put in place adequate health emergency preparedness measures to curtail the impact of the avian influenza in southern Africa given the situation obtaining in Nigeria,? says Mr. Robert Kwesiga, the Federation?s regional programmes coordinator in southern Africa.

    Avian influenza, popularly known as bird flu, is a viral disease which is transmitted from one bird to another; in some conditions the virus affects human beings. It has so far racked havoc in Asia, Europe and recently in Africa. In southern Africa, although no cases have been detected, there are fears that seasonal birds migrating from infected countries may contaminated local birds, which will transmit the virus to domestic birds which closer to human beings.

    The International Federation believes that the pandemic is a threat which could have unparalleled consequences for the region and the continent at large. ?It may not only cost the lives of many millions of people, but seriously destabilize economies, communities and political systems, including across borders in all parts of the region. Such a pandemic would have national and local impact, with consequent damage to the fabric of the regional system within which we live today,? added Kwesiga.

    The regional office of the Red Cross in southern Africa, apart from putting its health response emergency teams on standby, is currently mobilizing all the ten Red Cross societies in the region to start preparing information and educational materials to be distributed to the communities so they better prepare, in case the outbreak hits the region.

    ?This is, in our view, absolutely necessary as the real work must be done at the community and village level where the risk of contact with infected poultry or with contaminated clothing or other equipment is highest for farmers, other people and their families,? said Mr. Davide Zappa, the Federation?s regional disaster coordinator in southern Africa.

    The leading humanitarian organization which was part of the successful awareness raising efforts in Uige province in Angola following the outbreak of Marburg a hemorrhagic viral outbreak, considers that Red Cross societies and other humanitarian organization in southern Africa and the continent at large should give the highest priority to contact with their governments in carrying out community education.

    Davide also added that, ?the Red Cross Societies are auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, and should be included as partners in the preparedness and response mechanism which all countries should be establishing.? He also noted that experience with other public health emergencies shows that effective governmental action requires an effective partnership with organizations with community outreach and the capacity to reach all people vulnerable to the risk without discrimination and in the shortest possible time.

    The International Federation of Red Cross in southern Africa region is currently working with all the ten Red Cross societies in the region to be proactive and start raising awareness on avian. ?We are currently supporting our Red Cross societies by providing technical information and advice on health emergency preparedness,? says Forster Matyatya, the regional heath officer for the Federation. ?We are learning a lot from other European and Asian countries and the situation in Nigeria. So far each all Red Cross societies in the region have been request to identify focal people to which information is shared,? he added.

    The Red Cross societies will start the preparation by training health volunteers on community mobilization and awareness. It is hoped that these will volunteers will provide education and information about Avian Influenza, hygiene promotion and to detect infected birds, animals and persons by identifying signs and symptoms and reporting to the authorities.
    Last edited by Extra; February 24, 2006, 06:58 PM. Reason: formatting only