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  • Africa, Middle East, Latin America prepare for bird flu


Click on the links to read reports from SciDev.Net's correspondents on preparations for the arrival of the bird flu virus in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Sub-Saharan Africa
South Africa

Latin America
Andean nations
Southern Cone nations

Middle East
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The H5N1 bird flu virus is moving fast. Since August, when it was first detected outside Asia, it has spread to Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Romania, Croatia, and was recently found in imported birds in UK quarantine.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging governments to prepare for a predicted human flu pandemic triggered by H5N1.

Many experts believe that H5N1 is most likely to mutate and start a human flu pandemic in Asia, where the virus is entrenched in poultry.

In response to the threat, Western nations are stockpiling the flu drug Tamiflu, and the European Union has banned all imports of live birds.

The WHO has created an Asian stockpile of Tamiflu to ensure it could be rapidly distributed in the region if it faced an outbreak of contagious bird flu in humans.

China's health minister is reported to have urged Roche, the pharmaceutical giant that holds the patent for Tamiflu, to relax its rules to allow countries to boost production. Indian companies are racing to make generic versions of the drug. 

Although the spotlight is on Asia, global tourism, migratory birds and international trade in both poultry and wild birds mean that other regions are also at risk.

What of Africa, the Middle East and Latin America? In these regions, poor public health infrastructure means millions of people would be at high risk if a flu pandemic emerged. There has been little media coverage of how prepared these regions are.

Just last week (19 October), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that migratory birds would carry H5N1 to the Middle East and Africa within weeks.

Human travel is also a concern. Two million travellers are expected to visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage in January,many arriving from Asian nations.

SciDev.Net asked its correspondents in Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and in sub-Saharan Africa to investigate the state of preparedness in their countries. Here are their reports.

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