Avian Flu Spreads to Africa

Fri Feb. 24, 2006 7:35 PM EST

The WHO recently confirmed that the avian flue had migrated to Africa, and called on countries in the region to take emergency measures to prevent the flu's spread outside of Nigeria. The continent, which is dependent on backyard poultry, can hardly afford the onset of avian flue, and there is no infrastructure to deal with the problem. Veterinary care is meager, barefooted children play with sick poultry, testing is limited and backyard chickens have access to wild birds, increasing the risk of contamination. It's an uphill battle to convince African farmers to kill their chickens, and according to the chairman of Nigeria's local poultry farmers association, Alhaji Aruna , farmers are more likely hide their poultry and turn to the black market than quarantine their animals.

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"We live with the flu. It's not a big deal to us. We should be less concerned about it in Africa," Aruna said. "We should be more concerned about things that are more devastating to us than a white man's disease. If it is only in Africa, little effort would have been made. In fact, in all sincerity, corruption is the highest disease that we have." And it is that corruption that he anticipates will prevent Western countries from donating aid to Africa to deal with the flu, as lenders question whether farmers will actually receive any compensation for the chickens they kill. Moreover, Nigerians distrust the government so thoroughly that many people question whether the bird flu even exists, or is some sort of ploy.

In the past week cases of avian flu in birds were also found in India. In contrast with Africa, India immediately announced it had a stockpile of 80,000 doses of Tamiflu. Because of the thriving pharmaceutical industry there, one million more doses are in production.

It appears USAID in Africa is attempting to get around government corruption by building infrastructure for flu prevention. By building schools, increasing training and supplying equipment, USAID hopes to "build a fire hydrant before the fire." Additionally, the U.S. pledged $25 million to Nigeria in technical assistance. But if the bird infection cannot be restrained quickly, it could have devastating repercussions to a region whose livelihood is dependent on poultry, and is ill-equipped to face a major pandemic.