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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Africa wakes up to Sars
By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC, London

African countries are stepping up measures at ports and airports to detect travellers who might be carrying the Sars virus.

People wear masks as they wait for tickets at Beijing Railway Station
Many Beijing residents are anxious to leave
This follows warnings that the pneumonia-like disease poses a particular threat to people whose immune systems have been weakened by Aids.

So far the continent has not been affected by Sars, although one suspected case is being investigated in South Africa.

But with Sars continuing to spread in East Asia, African countries are gradually waking up to the threat they could face.

Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia are now checking all travellers from affected areas, and health authorities from Lagos to Cape Town have been put on alert.

There may be no confirmed cases in Africa yet, but the possibilities are frightening.

Aids fear

One of the scientists who discovered the Aids virus, Luc Montagnier, warned this week that people whose immune systems were already weakened by Aids would be very vulnerable to catching Sars, and if they caught it, would be much more likely to die.

KNOWN DEATH TOLL
China: 106
Hong Kong: 105
Singapore: 16
Canada: 15
Vietnam: 5
Thailand: 2
Malaysia: 2
If Sars and Aids combine, said Professor Montagnier, it would be a disaster.

In some parts of Africa more than a third of adults carry the Aids infection.

Uganda's government-owned New Vision newspaper has warned that because of this Sars could strike with lethal speed and has called for a massive public education campaign.

Some people would go further; in South Africa a researcher in the field of public health is fighting a one-man campaign to get South Africa Airways to stop all flights to Hong Kong, so as to at least delay the spread of the virus to what he says is a critically vulnerable population.




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