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14.11.2005 General News

Stakeholders discuss bird flu

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Accra, Nov. 14, GNA - Health, veterinary and wildlife institutions in Ghana said on Monday they were in full gear to prevent and control any incursion of the avian influenza (bird flu), currently raging in Asia with serious implications for both birds and humans. Already in force is a ban on the importation of poultry products from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan and some other Asian countries. Also personnel of the Veterinary Services Department of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (VSD) have been directed to intensify their surveillance throughout the country, especially at entry points, live bird markets and wetlands at the Keta, Songhor and Sakumono Lagoons, Densu Delta, Muni Pomadze, Amuzuri and Owabi Ramsar Sites. A taskforce comprising the World Health Organisation, Ministry of Health, Food and Agriculture Organisation, United States Agency for International Development and the Wildlife Division have also been formed to monitor the disease.

The Director of Veterinary Services, Dr Mensah Agyen-Frempong announced the measures at a press briefing in Accra on the avian flu. He said should the disease surface in Ghana, the Minister of Food and Agriculture would invoke the Disease of Animals Act, Act 83 of 1961, and declare the area where it was found infected and apply all the control measures in the Act.

Avian flu is an infectious disease of birds caused by a strain of the influenza virus. The disease can present a mild or even a symptomatic infection to an acute, fatal disease of chicken, turkeys, guinea fowls and other birds, especially migratory waterfowl. Avian flu is considered a pandemic disease and its virus, once introduced into birds spreads through the movement of infected birds, contaminated equipment, egg crates and workers in poultry farms. Airborne transmission may occur if birds are in close proximity and with appropriate air movement.

A serious outbreak of the disease, also known as the fowl plague, occurred in the Netherlands in 2003; spread to Belgium and Germany, affecting 250 farms and led to the killing of 28 million poultry. There is still an outbreak of the epidemic in China. It had already seriously affected Japan, South Korea and South East Asia in 2004. Ghana has a poultry population of 23 million birds, of which 80 per cent are domestic.

Amidst serious global concerns about current outbreaks of avian flu in some parts of the world, the situation has not been helped by the knowledge that migratory birds play a major role in the trans-boundary transmission of the disease.

Dr George Amofa, Director of Public Health of the Ghana Health Service, said symptoms of bird flu in humans ranged from typical flu-like symptom of fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches, to eye infections and respiratory diseases.

He observed that once international spread began, pandemics were considered unstoppable as they were spread rapidly by coughing and sneezing and the fact that people infected could shed the virus before symptoms appeared to add to the risk of international spread. There have been a total of 121 reported cases of human influenza with 62 deaths in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia since 2003. Dr Amofa announced an ongoing preparedness plan in addition to a recruitment of consultants from the USAID and the WHO to conduct a rapid assessment plan that started last October.

A three-man delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Health also took part in an international partnership consultative meeting on the avian flu epidemic hosted by the US Government last October in support of timely and sustained high level global political leadership to combat the pandemic.

Dr Amofa announced that a National Interagency forum had been proposed for November 2005 under the auspices of the National Disaster Management Organisation to discuss the draft preparedness plan. He underlined the need to food safety and avoidance with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.

Brigadier Joseph Odei (rtd), National Co-ordinator of NADMO, called on public and poultry farmers to volunteer information on any suspected incident of bird flu.