Tanzania has created an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan to deal with avian flu. The plan is supported by the country?s development partners, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Michael Mwasekaga is the avian influenza coordinator for CDC Tanzania. He told VOA English to Africa reporter Douglas Mpuga that avian flu is a serious threat, with 11 African countries reporting the disease in animals and three countries ? Nigeria, Djibouti and Egypt ? reporting it in humans.

Mwasekaga said while Tanzania is not yet affected, the disease could easily be spread through trade and tourism and by migratory wild birds from infected areas of East Asia. He said, ?Introduction and spread of avian flu is a serious threat to Tanzania socially, economically and health wise because of its impact on food safety and security.?

He said bird flu could ruin the lives of the rural poor who depend on chicken sales for their livelihood. ?But more so because the disease could have devastating effect to people who are already suffering from HIV/AIDS and could overburden the health system that is trying to cope with other, more common diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and others.?

Mwasekaga noted that the US government, through the CDC and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), is working closely with Tanzania?s Ministry of Livestock Development and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. He said part of this cooperation involves US government support for the strengthening of avian flu testing capabilities in both animals and humans by equipping the Center of Veterinary Laboratory and the National Influenza Center.

Mwasekaga said the US government has awarded a four-year grant worth US $ 800,000 to Tanzania?s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare for the surveillance and detection of avian flu.

The US government is also supporting training on preparedness and rapid response. Mwasekaga said, ?We support the strengthening of coordination mechanism at the national level through the National Influenza Multisectoral Taskforce Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. I think the goal here is to build local capacity over time.?