Bird flu action appeal sweeps Africa
A strain of avian influenza, or bird flu, known as H5N1, has spread to Cameroon in West Africa, becoming the continent’s sixth country to be infected with the highly pathogenic virus. The
Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO) has launched an appeal for US$20 million, calling for vigilant response in West and Central Africa to the latest spread of the disease, which is proven to be fatal to humans and poultry. Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, and Nigeria are on alert following initial outbreaks, which are the first seen in Central Africa since 2006. The virus has proven devastating to indigenous African farmers, having led to losses of up to US$20 million in Cameroon alone, according to
local media reports
in the country. “H5N1 causes major losses of nutritious food and threatens farmers’ livelihoods, particularly in resource-poor environments where governments have difficulty providing financial compensation for losses,” said Abebe Haile Gabriel, Food and Agricultural Organisation Deputy Regional Representative for Africa. Nigeria continues to be the most affected country, having suffered 750 outbreaks and with nearly 3.5 million birds either dead or culled. The outbreak in Cameroon (population 22 million), raises concerns the disease could advance southward and quickly escalate to a global health emergency. A number of countries in southern Africa are already grappling with a
Yellow Fever outbreak that has been described as the worst in 30 years
, and the arrival of bird flu could further compound efforts to deliver public health services to local populations. A first assessment mission and distribution of equipment in Cameroon has already been funded by the
US Agency for International Development
(USAID), and the Food and Agricultural Organisation has called for swift action among all African countries. The
World Health Organisation
and
World Health Organisation for Animal Health
are also offering assistance to member countries by investigating potential avian influenza cases in animals and providing contingency planning, technical advice and laboratory materials.
By Adam Pitt
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Photo: Ferdinand Reus