23 February 2006

Zambia: Avian Flu - Govt's Plan Emphasises Prevention

Johannesburg — The Zambian cabinet has approved a US $4.8 million budget to tackle avian flu, with an emphasis on prevention, according to a health official.

"The country does not have the capacity to respond to an outbreak - we are trying to raise more funds - so we are doing all that we can to prevent an outbreak," said Victor Mukonka, a spokesman for the health ministry.

Health Minister Sylvia Masebo, briefing parliament on a national response plan this week, said Zambia was at high-risk of avian flu as it was in the path of a major migratory bird flyway.

The Lochinvar wetlands, a World Heritage site, situated on the Kafue river floodplain between Livingstone and the capital, Lusaka, is an important nesting site for migratory birds, which could play a role in the spread of the deadly H5N1 virus.

"So far we have not received any reports of an outbreak, but we are awaiting surveillance test results from the area," said Mukonka.

The government plans to strengthen the virology laboratory at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, and is putting together compensation packages for poultry owners, said Masebo. The minister also appealed to members of the public not to handle sick or dead birds.

The H5N1 virus has devastated poultry stocks around the world and killed at least 92 people - mostly in Asia - since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Close contact with infected poultry and other domestic birds remains the most important source of human infection.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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