2008-12-06 08:28:00
EAC prepares against bird flu outbreak
By Zephania Ubwani, Arusha

The East African Community yesterday launched a Euro 3 million (about Sh4.9 billion) preparedness plan against a bird flu virus as the region was not entirely safe from the deadly disease.

It said although East African countries have so far not been affected, reported cases of the disease in neighbouring Sudan should be a cause for concern and extra vigilance.

"Our field surveillance systems must be bolstered if we are to fully prepare for this looming threat,," warned the EAC director of productive and social sectors, Dr Nyamajeje Caleb Weggoro.

He emphasised an early detection approach for the highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) is reported to have wiped out 150 million chicken and killed over 70 people in some parts of the world, mainly South East Asia, three years ago.

Dr Weggoro said the fact that all suspected cases of bird flu in the region have tested negative for H5NI, the virus causing the disease, was no excuse for laxity.

"Due to the proximity of EAC partner states to Sudan, a country that has already reported several cases, we must be alert and on the look out," he said. He added that poultry production systems in the EAC region tend to be very extensive.

Moreover, he continued, the close interaction between humans and birds was "likely to predispose humans to the virus causing the disease in case birds are infected."

The EAC regional avian influenza preparedness and response plan, a three-year project funded by the European Union, aims at improving capacities to coordinate, plan and respond to the avian influenza threat to the region.

Under the project, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is to receive euro 1.68 million. This would be spent mainly on capacity building and technical support, while the balance would go to the EAC secretariat.

"The overall objective of the project is to contribute to the socio-economic welfare and public health in the EAC by minimising the impact of avian influenza," said a senior livestock officer with the EAC, Mr Timothy Wesonga.

Besides focusing on other trans-boundary animal diseases, the plan aims to support the implementation of national avian and human influenza response programmes in all the five EAC partner states of Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda.

The regional organisation has dealt with the bird flu threat since late 2005 when the disease was reported in some African countries, including Egypt, Sudan and South Africa.