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Bird Flu Conference in Mali Aims to Educate Farmers


While scientists and government officials enter their second day of an international conference on the bird flu virus in Mali, one farmer in nearby Senegal continues to monitor her chickens in the rural town of Fatick. She thinks she has already done much of what experts suggest, and is now hoping for the best. Phuong Tran reports for VOA from Fatick.

Experts turned their attention to countries in Africa at the international conference on fighting the bird flu virus. Experts regard poor countries as the weakest link in the fight against the spread of the H5N1 virus.

Far from the conference halls is Fatick, a rural town in Senegal. Here, a 50-year-old farmer checks on 300 chickens in her backyard. Tening Ngom separates her chickens by age into three coops.

Years ago, she says, she learned about bird flu. When asked if she knew what to do in case her birds were infected, she replied that yes, she has worked with a veterinarian who helped her vaccinate her birds.

But a technical advisor with Senegal's Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Alioune Touré, says that there have not been any reported cases of the bird flu virus in Senegal. He says that though there has been discussion of providing farmers a bird flu vaccine, there is no immediate plan of distribution.

Touré says that the Fatick farmer may confuse the bird flu with the less deadly Newcastle disease, which produces symptoms similar to the H5N1 bird flu virus.

He reports that his department created a national action plan last year, and has set aside more than $1 million in prevention activities. Touré says that his ministry will soon reach out to farmers in a campaign to explain how bird flu virus is different and more deadly than other animal diseases.

At a meeting in Senegal in February, West African agriculture and finance ministers agreed to set up a regional observation system, and to request funds from the African Development Bank.

Donors are expected to discuss the request on Friday at the Mali conference. They are looking for ways to raise up to $1.5 billion, one-third of which would go to Africa to fight the spread of the virus. Some donors are advocating for a system that will compensate farmers for their losses.

The Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health is working with international organizations to improve monitoring systems in Africa, where eight countries have reported the H5N1 virus.

Samba Sidibé, the organization's Africa representative, says that if the bird flu situation worsens, the economic impact will be felt throughout the production chain of poultry. He adds that though some countries have been able to control the virus, the problem is countries that have not developed systems.

Sidibe says that the world is like a global village, where one infected country can put the world at risk.

For the farmer in Fatick, she knows the virus is not in Senegal, but says she is scared of what would happen if it did come because the chickens are her main source of income.

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