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01.03.2006 General News

Ghanaian experts upgrade capacity in avian flu diagnosis

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Accra, March 1, GNA - Two virologists from the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) have undergone a training programme to update their capacity to diagnose the Avian Influenza (AVI) disease at the United States Naval Medical Research Unit in Cairo, Egypt.

Dr William Ampofo and Dr Jacob Barnor, who returned home last Friday, have been equipped by the Unit, a World Health Organisation (WHO) reference centre for avian influenza, to build the capacity of NMMIR and to establish a national laboratory network to effectively diagnose the disease in poultry and humans.

Dr Ampofo, who was introduced at an emergency meeting to assess Ghana's preparedness and response to AVI, told the GNA in an interview that the network would cover public health laboratories, which would work closely with veterinary laboratories.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Worl Heath Organization (WHO) sponsored the three-day programme. Dr Ampofo said: "The programme updated our capacity in molecular diagnosis of influenza, identifying the virus in human and animal specimen, virus isolation and cell culture."

The Unit, he said, also gave them cells for virus isolation and reagents for molecular diagnosis for national needs.

World Health Organisation with the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) called the meeting to enable members of the National Taskforce and Regional Technical and Coordinating Committees on AVI to evaluate their progress and share experiences.

Health Minister Major Courage Quashigah (rtd) and Ms Anna Nyamekye, Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, who addressed the meeting stressed Government's commitment to prevent the disease from entering Ghana but urged stakeholders to do their best to control it in the event of an outbreak.

Dr George Amofa, Director of Public Health of the Ghana Health Service, said if stakeholders complied with and were committed to the strategic and technical measures put in place to respond to the disease, Ghana would effectively limit its spread.

"The keys to success are preparedness because we cannot assume that the disease would not spread to Ghana; we need effective surveillance and quick action because we cannot postpone our response when we are informed about a suspected case.

"Let us see our task as the responsibility of all and be mindful that we cannot be effective unless there is team work and sharing of information."

Dr Amofa announced that the Teaching and Regional Hospitals as well as the Military and Police Hospitals had identified and equipped some of their wards to serve as isolation units in wait for the disease in humans.

He, however, allayed the fear of Ghanaians that they could contract the disease from consuming chicken, saying Ghana had not yet recorded an incident.

"The way we thoroughly cook our poultry would make it difficult for the disease to be spread from food. However, handing a sick or dead poultry and very close co ntact with sick birds could cause an infection," he warned. Dr Lawson Ahiadze, Chairman of the Task Force, advised Ghanaians not to eat their poultry when they fell sick or died from unexplained circumstances but to report to veterinary officers for investigations. "It is unsafe to eat the carcass of any sick animal because it may pose a health threat," he warned.

Some of the participants said they had followed up on suspected cases of the disease but laboratory tests had proved them to be Newcastle disease, which exhibited symptoms similar to the bird flu. There are two forms of the flu, the mild one that commonly causes mild symptoms like ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production and the severe form which affects multiple organs and may lead to 100 per cent mortality within 48 hours.

The participants urged the Government to supply adequate logistics and funds for effective education, surveillance, diagnoses, treatment and containment of the disease.

They also suggested the inclusion of pupils and students in the education campaign.

Following the outbreak of the disease in Asia, Europe and recently neighbouring Nigeria and Niger, Government has allocated 2.5 billion cedis to the Veterinary Services Directorate (VSD) to intensify public awareness and procure logistics towards the prevention and control of the disease.

In addition the FAO has provided Ghana with 45,000 dollars to cover expenditure of travel, equipment and training. There is a ban on the importation of live poultry and poultry products including feathers from the countries where the disease has occurred.

The Taskforce includes representatives of the VSD, Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, WHO, USAID and other development partners. The Taskforce has formulated Ghana's Emergency Preparedness Plan for the disease, which contains actions for dealing with the disease in birds and also actions to deal with it should there be human involvement.

The plan addresses issues of Planning and Co-ordination, Surveillance, Prevention and Containment, Health Systems and Communication.

The role of developing partners is to fill any funding gaps in the implementation of the plan. Ghana is also participating in an FAO Technical Co-operation Project, namely, Emergency Assistance for Early Detection and Prevention of Avian Influenza in West Africa. Experts say migratory waterfowl, sea birds or shorebirds are generally responsible for the introduction of the virus into poultry. Once introduced into a flock, the virus is spread from flock to flock by the usual methods involving movement of infected birds, contaminated equipment, egg crates, feed trucks and service crew (workers in poultry farms).

Airborne transmission may occur if birds are in close proximity and with appropriate air movement. In case of an outbreak, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture would invoke the provisions of the Diseases of Animals Act (Act 83 of 1961), and declare the concerned area infected. Measures to be implemented by the Taskforce include the prohibition of movement of animals, litter and vehicles from the infected farm or premises; the cleaning and disinfecting of premises and its vehicles and rapid, humane destruction of infected poultry at high risk of infection and eggs.

Others are disposal of carcasses and potentially infective material in a bio-secure and environmentally sustainable manner and enhanced bio-security at poultry farms and associated premises, including movement of personnel. Additionally, a three-kilometre bio-secure "protection zone" would be set up around the infected premises for at least 21 days. A wider 10-kilometre "surveillance zone" would also be set up within which vets would visit those keeping birds and search for signs of bird flu.

There would also be controlled movement of birds and products that may contain the virus and changes to industry practices to reduce risk (e.g. segregation of different poultry species in production and marketing systems).

The Ministry of Agriculture has stated that compensation would be paid to farmers whose poultry would be destroyed. The use of vaccination has also been planned. Niger is the second country in West Africa to report the disease, which has killed half of its 170 reported human victims worldwide. Clinical symptoms include a high fever, usually with a temperature above 38 degrees, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, chest pain and bleeding from the nose and gums. All confirmed patients have been reported to develop pneumonia as well as kidney and heart dysfunction. 01 March 06