Wednesday, in Geneva, UN agencies will begin a three-day meeting to find ways to help stop the spread of bird flu. Tuesday, the eve of the meeting, the group Actionaid is warning those agencies that greater emphasis must be placed on people and not just on the virus and the infected birds. It says in the developing world, more than 70 percent of people live in rural communities alongside their bird and animal stock.
Dr. PV Unnikrishnan is Actionaid’s emergencies adviser. From Geneva, he spoke to English to Africa’s Joe De Capua about public health efforts against bird flu: “It is extremely important to take public health in the forefront of the response to bird flu. This can be achieved only by engaging people actively, and to engage people, both affected people and the people living in close vicinity and people who are likely to contract the disease. It is extremely important that simple information materials are available.”
Asked for the best way to engage people to pass along important health information on bird flu, Dr. Unnikrishnan says, “Today there is a complete information blackout when it comes to bird flu at the ordinary people’s level. So, what measures are needed immediately should include production of simple educational and informational materials that could be done by the health ministry and could be supported and facilitated by the international organizations, UN organizations like WHO (World Health Organization). And once these materials are available, they can be disseminated widely through newspapers, television, radio and other public broadcasting systems.”
He criticizes the media for concentrating images of infected birds being destroyed, rather than passing along health warnings and information about the disease.