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Africans told to step up bird flu cooperation

Written by: Staff
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LILONGWE, Apr 24 (Reuters) African scientists must step up cooperation to fight bird flu, with lack of information almost as dangerous as lack of resources as the continent faces its next big health threat, a regional meeting heard today.

''We cannot succeed if we do not come together to fight this flu,'' Malawi Agriculture Minister Uladi Mussa said at the opening of a U.N.-sponsored workshop drawing veterinary, agriculture and health officials from 19 African countries.

''We have to discuss and find ways of cooperation on how we can contain it, share knowledge on how to prevent it because prevention is better than cure,'' Mussa said.

Bird flu outbreaks have been reported in at least five African countries, including Egypt where the World Health Organisation says there have been 12 human cases, four of them fatal.

Health experts fear Africa's poor human and animal health services, large backyard poultry population and lack of resources could make it an easy target for a broader outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, already blamed for the deaths of 113 people worldwide, most of them in Asia.

Mazlan Jusoh, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) country representative for Malawi, said that although most countries in Africa remained free of the virus officials should boost surveillance now.

''In Malawi, as is the case in many African countries, inadequate medical, veterinary and laboratory services, limited animal and human health education and the high levels of poverty make more people vulnerable,'' he said in a statement.

Jusoh said countries must step up public awareness campaigns and put in place rapid response mechanisms to reduce the social and economic impact of the disease.

Malawi, in southern Africa, had a scare in December when thousands of migratory birds were found dead in the central region district of Ntchisi, a short drive from the capital Lilongwe. But tests in South African laboratories found no traces of the deadly virus.

The Malawi workshop has jointly been organised by the FAO, the regional programme Emergency Assistance for Early Detection and Prevention of Avian Influenza in Eastern and Southern Africa and the African Union Centre for Tick and Tick Borne Diseases.

REUTERS PR VC1805

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