UN expert praises Egypt's bird flu response

Daily Star Egypt Staff
4 Min Read

WASHINGTON: Egypt s quick response to bird flu shows that even less-developed countries can cope with limited outbreaks if they follow guidelines, the United Nations chief bird flu expert says. Although health experts had worried that Egypt could be hit hard by avian influenza because of its backyard flocks and widespread poverty, the North African country coped well with its outbreak, Dr. David Nabarro said. They have been an example of good practice in the way they moved to introduce active surveillance. They got the human case mortality very low, Nabarro told Reuters in a telephone interview. The H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread to more than 40 countries. It mainly infects birds but has sickened 208 people and killed 115 of them. Egypt has had 13 cases and five of those people have died. On Monday, Egyptian Health Minister Hatem El-Gabali said the epidemic in birds was nearly controlled. The situation as of this morning is that the disease has been wiped out to a level of 96 to 97 percent, Gabali told parliament, without elaborating. Nabarro said Egypt followed World Health Organization guidelines that call for countries to address bird flu at the highest political level, to begin intense surveillance to catch as many cases as possible, to cull flocks as soon as outbreaks are reported, to compensate farmers who lose birds this way and to quickly treat human victims. Countries around the world – not just Egypt but Vietnam, Thailand, Ukraine and others – they are all making very sincere efforts to follow the strategies that were recommended (by the World Health Organization), Nabarro said. They have good political leadership and good surveillance schemes and they are paying attention to the livelihoods of people that lose their birds. Scientists fear that in some places bird flu could spread undetected among flocks and among people, allowing the virus to live and replicate and change into a form that could be passed easily from person to person. This would spark a pandemic that could kill millions globally within months. A senior foreign expert, speaking about two weeks after the disease reached Egypt in February, said it would be extremely difficult to eradicate because up to half of all households keep poultry and because chicken farms are often close together. Nabarro said Egypt s case was good news for efforts elsewhere to cope with H5N1, which the WHO predicts will eventually spread globally. The government of Egypt was able to implement effective culling and compensation initiatives around outbreaks of avian influenza in poultry within commercial operations, including relatively small commercial concerns, Nabarro said. But, like many other governments, (Egypt s government) has found it hard to cull, and compensate owners for the loss of backyard birds, especially in cities. He said it has coped well in other areas. They introduced active surveillance all across the country. They ve been very transparent. They haven t hidden anything from anybody, Nabarro said. When people have had symptoms, they have used the recommended treatment, that is Tamiflu, Nabarro said. Roche AG s and Gilead Sciences Inc s Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, can reduce the severity of influenza infections when used promptly. Reuters

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