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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Bird flu set to hit Africa soon
A Romanian health worker with a dead bird
Europe has already been hit by the potentially lethal virus
East Africa needs urgent help to combat the bird flu virus which could soon spread there, the United Nation's food agency, the FAO is warning.

Confirmation that the potentially deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has already arrived in Turkey and Romania suggests it is being carried by migrating birds.

These known routes end in East Africa's Rift Valley where farming patterns closely resemble those in Asia.

Veterinary services there would struggle to cope, the FAO says.

The FAO says the first birds could arrive in North Africa and then East Africa in the coming weeks.

The fear is the virus will quickly take hold in domestic chicken flocks and prove extremely difficult to eradicate.

"The countries urgently need international assistance to build up basic surveillance and control systems," FAO chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech said.

If the virus were to become endemic in eastern Africa, it could increase the risk of the virus being transmitted to and between humans, he warned.

"The close proximity between people and animals and insufficient surveillance and disease control capacities in eastern African countries create an ideal breeding ground for the virus.

The H5N1 strain has killed more than 60 people in South East Asia since 2003. However, of those only one is suspected to have died after catching the virus from another human, and experts stress the risk is low.

The H5N1 strain remained largely in South East Asia until this summer, when Russia and Kazakhstan both reported outbreaks
Scientists fear it may be carried by migrating birds to Europe and Africa

Do you think bird flu is a serious threat to Africa? If so, what should be done or is the danger being exaggerated? Do you think African governments should buy in stocks of the drug Tamiflu - which can reduce the effect of the illness? If you are a poultry farmer in Africa, are you worried about bird flu or will you benefit from the ban on cheap poultry imports?

Let us know your views using the form below.

A selection of them will be broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme at 1700GMT on Saturday 22 October.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Looking at the disease as a global threat and considering its economic implications, it would be wise to stock the vaccines with the World Health Organisation at a central location. In the event of an outbreak occurs, there should be a quick movement of the drugs with the first batch reaching the affected country within 24 hrs by flight. That would ensure that the disease is contained within a short time around the world and there should be cause to panic after all. Independent preparations by countries should be limited to the initial identification stages, to be taken over by the world body within a day at most. That is what I would call an effort to safe guard humanity from natural calamities.
Abraham Misoi, Swansea, UK

It a very great threat to the poultry farming communities. Local poultry are the scavenger types which are not easy to confine - and disease spread is very likely.

We need to have a strict surveillance system for the incoming birds into the country.

I am a poultry pathologist and all farmers and whoever knows what I do for a living are asking me for advice. I think it would be wise for the FAO to put up general guidelines that we have to pass over to the population.
Nsadha Zachary, Kampala, Uganda

Without financial reimbursement policies in place, it will be highly difficult to persuade farmers to heed outsiders' calls to slaughter their birds
Irvin Jackson, USA

There is certainly hype in the way that this particular bird flu is being presented. After all, there has been only one case of human-to-human transmission. But that should not stop African governments from taking the necessary precautions to protect their citizens. It is always better to err on the side of caution.
Muktar Amin, USA/Ethiopia

Controlling and containing the spread of the bird flu in Africa must be a global priority because African governments lack the funds and expertise to develop effective surveillance systems needed to track and eradicate the impending bird flu pandemic. The public health infrastructure is non-existent on the continent. I will suggest that rather that asking African governments to fund the purchase of optimum quantities of Tamiflu, WHO must purchase the drug using 1%-2% of the funds from promised debt forgiveness. The whole world benefits from such a strategy because, if we do nothing and the pandemic hits Africa, it will quickly spread elsewhere.
Edward Mensah, USA

Are we really going to set up surveillance for migrating birds and kill scores of potential dinners? Sixty people died in Asia due to this virus, compare that to the thousands dying from starvation and dehydration. Let's focus our resources there.
No name given

I think this is all a matter of risk and potential. This may never transfer between humans. So far it seems to have been able to transfer bird to human, but not between us. However, if it does, it could prove a massive disaster. I was a boy scout, and I was taught to "be prepared." I think the governments of the world should definitely take heed.
Tom O'Brien, Victoria, BC, Canada

None of your questions confront the problem. You have to attack the bird flu at the source. We should be trying to find a way to vaccinate the wild flocks of birds by feeding them with vaccine coated bird seed. There is no way to stop the spread of flu from migrating birds. This could lead to complete devastation of wild life.
Brad Hall, Dallas, USA

It is irrelevant to discuss whether the danger to Africa (or anywhere for that matter) is exaggerated, as the chances of the bird flu virus combining with a human flu virus is entirely possible but completely unpredictable. What is obvious from the problems that Africans have faced with the HIV virus is that unless the pharmaceutical corporations are willing to allow production of generic variations on their products by third-world countries, profit will continue to take precedence over human life. Whether African governments are advised to purchase Tamiflu (or bird flu vaccine once one is developed) is also an irrelevant question, as these governments do not have the resources to buy, or the infrastructure to effectively distribute these treatments. What African governments should be doing is educating people against close-contact with poultry to prevent infection of the existing bird flu virus, and monitoring wildfowl and poultry populations containing them if necessary. Most of all, Africa will need help from the developed world, which may be in short supply as western countries see to their own needs in responding to this threat. If human and bird flu variants combine, I fear that Africa could be facing a terrifying disaster.
Mark Willett, University of Sussex, UK

Bird-Flu is an especially serious threat to Africa because of it's poverty and lack of health infrastructure. The WHO should preposition bird-flu response teams in the area to co-ordinate destruction of bird flocks exposed to the virus. Tamiflu should be given free if and when it appears in the human population.
Bill Zolan, San Francisco, USA

The threat to Africa and the rest of the world is very real. Positive, concrete steps that could be taken now include the rapid implementation of robust disease surveillance and monitoring protocols in geographical regions associated with migratory bird routes, and the creation of an international fund to reimburse farmers and local governments for costs associated with wide scale culling of at-risk poultry. Without financial reimbursement policies in place, it will be highly difficult to persuade farmers to heed outsiders' calls to slaughter their birds.
Irvin Jackson, Arlington, USA

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See the migrating birds which could be spreading the virus


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