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[KAMPALA] One of Uganda’s top health experts has called for a massive public health campaign on the potential dangers of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), even though only one death has so far been reported in Africa.

The demand comes from David Serwadda, head of the department of disease control and environmental health at the University of Makerere in Kampala, who says that there is a need for health workers around the country to be more vigilant and report any suspected infections.

Serwadda says that he is not aware of any monitoring measures at the country’s entry points — particularly its international airport at Entebbe — and says that the government should implement such measures.

His comments reflect that fact that — even though fears about SARS are intensifying in most parts of Asia, and some health officials are already expressing concern about the ease with which the virus could spread if its reached Africa — the region appears so far to lack a sense of urgency about the situation.

For example, although many Ugandans do not know about the disease — and others in rural areas are completely ignorant that a disease of this nature exists — the minister for health, Jim Muhwezi, has refused to answer any questions from the press concerning the disease, apart from issuing a press statement.

The statement points out that airport authorities have been alerted and are on the look-out for any travellers who may be infected from coming into the country. But health experts such as Serwadda are calling for stronger measures to prevent the disease from entering the country.

Many of the border crossings, for example, through which most foreigners enter the country by land, do not have facilities to detect travellers who might be carrying the virus. And facilities to detect infection are also questionable.

The media in Africa has not been active in reporting on recent events or highlighting their potential impact on the region. Most stories coming into Africa are obtained through international news agencies. And much of the information about SARS remains restricted to the Internet, even though this is not an effective medium of mass communication in Africa.

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