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Nigeria Steps Up Public Education on Bird Flu


Nigerian authorities are being criticized for not doing enough to educate the public about the dangers of the bird flu virus.

Critics say Nigerian authorities have been slow in their response to the outbreak of the deadly strain of the bird flu virus. Very little information was quickly passed on to the public.

But that appears to be changing. Health workers have been sent to public places, such as markets, across the country to educate the public on what to do in the wake of the outbreak.

Dr. Edet Umoh is the leader of a group of health workers who were at the main market in Abuja.

"The enlightenment here basically is to inform the poultry sellers about it, on the dangers of the disease and the measures they have to take to protect themselves, families and the general public, and of course the poultry population generally in the FCT [ Federal Capital Territory-Abuja] and the country at large," said Edet Umoh. "And that basically is the enlightenment we are doing. We are trying to get people to know about the sickness, the disease, the impact, the fact that it is not just about poultry, that human beings are also susceptible to the virus."

The chicken sellers appeared very receptive to the message from the health personnel. One of them, Mohammed Ali, appealed for urgent assistance from the government.

"The chicken sellers have sustained a great loss because their life capital has almost gone in this outbreak of bird flu," he said. "We estimated it to be 16.8 million Naira [about $130,000] - all the members [of the poultry industry] - and we are appealing to the government to do something about it soonest."

Bird flu is also the major topic on local radio. Anxious Nigerians have been calling in to express their views on the outbreak.

The Nigerian outbreak of H5N1 is the first known case in Africa. Scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that could trigger a global pandemic and kill millions of people.