African countries seek advice on ways to prevent bird flu from taking hold on the continent. How to stop a possible bird flu pandemic in Africa and elsewhere is the focus of some 600 animal and human health experts policy advisers and economists attending a World Health Organization-sponsored summit.
Wild birds from infected Asia have migrated to Europe, infecting domestic birds in several countries. So far, Africa has escaped this problem. But, experts are sure it is only a matter of time before a colony of wild birds infected with the H5N1 virus will fly to Africa and infect local poultry.
Modibo Traore is Director of the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He has come to the meeting to share information and to seek advice and financial support. He says Africa is well aware of the problems it will face if avian influenza gets a foothold in the continent.
"If we have the required financial support, maybe it will be possible to stop the disease before it becomes endemic," he said.
Over the past two years, 150 million birds in Asia have been culled and more than 60 people have died from avian influenza. The economic losses to Asian agriculture and tourism have been huge. And, the World Bank estimates a human influenza pandemic could cost the world at least $800 billion.
Health officials worry that the avian influenza virus could mutate into a form that could easily spread among humans. They agree that the best way to prevent this from happening is to control the virus at its source, in animals.
Dr. Traore describes Africa as a continent with a high level of risks. He says his bureau, which is attached to the African Union, is devising a strategy for combating bird flu common to all countries. He says a network of 30 countries is engaged in this fight. But, he adds it is important to extend that network to all 53 countries in Africa.
He says poor farmers will suffer enormously if they have to destroy their poultry. He says he hopes this meeting can help lighten the financial burden of African and all developing countries.
"The solidarity is very important in the current situation because even when you have got even one country with an endemic situation, this country will act as a permanent source of disease," he said. "And, the other countries which are free…they cannot be free for a long time. And, far as the source of infection has not been eradicated."
Animal health experts say they need about $170 million to eradicate the dangerous H5N1 avian flu virus in South East Asia. So far, the Food and Agriculture Organization, has received about $35 million.