A World Health Organization (WHO) official has called for a regional approach in addressing the risk of avian influenza in east Africa. Rita Njau is the World Health Organization’s acting director of preventive services in Tanzania.
Njau told VOA English to Africa reporter Douglas Mpuga that east Africa’s major bodies of water contribute to the risk of an avian flu outbreak. “The threat is quite real…. Migratory birds take this path twice a year as they migrate either from the southern or northern hemisphere. So we do have a potential threat” (of an outbreak), she said.
She said in 2006, when there was an avian flu pandemic in East Asia, WHO took the lead in setting up a task force with relevant institutions within Tanzania to address the threat. “[The WHO] also worked with other United Nations (UN) agencies and a committee was set up to discuss how to prepare and handle such potential emergencies.” She added, “There were actually two parallel task forces ready to tackle the situation as it would arise.”
Njau said WHO has contingency plans and has learned from what happened in Sudan, where there was an avian flu case. She stressed the importance of getting information to the people so that they know what to do in case of an outbreak.
Njau said more needs to be done about getting east African countries to cooperate in efforts to prevent avian flu. “I don’t think we have done as much as we should. There are no concrete plans for east Africa as a region. But there are plans to look at the issue (avian flu) as an east African problem. These plans involve looking at it holistically as a region problem instead of looking at it country by country.”
The World Health organization and other UN agencies have provided technical and financial support to the countries in the region. Most of this support is in technical expertise and testing and detection kits.