Bird flu back in Africa

The killer virus has been reported in Sudan and fears are that it could easily spread to southern Africa via Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which share borders with that country.

Migratory birds could easily reach the region through the Great Rift Valley which stretches from East to Southern Africa.

Ugandan authorities have since asked officials in districts bordering Sudan to be on alert following confirmed cases of avian flu in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba.

“We have sent out a warning to all districts especially those bordering Sudan and the national task force on bird flu is meeting every week to assess the situation,” Paul Kaggwa, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said.

Uganda, Kagwa added, had also embarked on training medical personnel to handle the situation if the disease, which was confirmed in local chickens earlier last month, appeared across the border in Uganda.

“Juba, being a two-hour drive from the Ugandan border, makes it possible for the deadly virus to easily spread across into Uganda,” he said last Friday.

A communication strategy has been developed in local languages to raise public awareness about the disease. The Uganda Wildlife Authority was also monitoring the movement of birds from the north. “We have set up eight special sites to pick samples,” said Patrick Atimnedi, spokesman for the authority.

According to wildlife officials, six species of migratory birds have been cited at Queen Elizabeth National Park, in the west of the country. Uganda lies on major migratory routes of birds moving to southern Africa from Europe and West Africa. There was cause to worry thanks to increased business traffic between Uganda and the southern Sudan town, the officials said.

Although the H5N1 virus has not been known to spread from human-to-human, people coming into contact with infected birds could easily contract the disease. Cases of avian influenza have been reported in several countries in Africa, including Djibouti and Nigeria.

An article in Nature warns that the health and economic consequences of the flu could be even worse than for South East Asia. ‘ IRIN/own staff.

October 2006
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