The top United Nations coordinator for bird flu said today that the world needs a four-prong approach involving governments, civil society, the private sector and media to control the spread of the deadly avian influenza virus.
Dr. David Nabarro, the UN System’s Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, told a meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered at UN Headquarters that governments can set the rules while civil society organizations relay crucial information to communities and people in their homes.
At the same time, the private sector can move through its workforce to empower communities to tackle the bird flu problem as the media tells the story, said Dr. Nabarro, a senior public health expert in the UN World Health Organization (WHO), who was appointed to his position by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in September.
“The good news is that we have seen communities starting to take control of issues…and taking action to improve the quality of health services,” he said.
But the bad news, he added, was the report earlier this week that an outbreak of the deadly strain of avian influenza called H5N1 struck Nigeria, showing the rest of Africa is in danger from the disease. Nigeria has an important commercial poultry sector and millions of backyard poultry farmers.
World health officials are worried about an outbreak in any country without the veterinary or human health systems to contain it.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said yesterday that, along with the World Organization for Animal Health, it would send veterinary experts to the West African country to assess the situation and examine how the virus got there.
Dr. Nabarro said the outbreak in Nigeria shows how quickly this strain can be carried around the planet by migrating birds. The outbreak that began two years ago in Asia remained a largely Southeast Asian problem a year later. Yet between June of 2005 and January of this year, the bird flu had spread “massively across the world” to Siberia in Russia, up to the Baltics, over to Turkey and Romania, and now to Nigeria on the African continent.
He said the disease had caused billions of dollars of damage to the poultry industry and created economic suffering for poor people for whom a chicken is a “short-term savings account” and a valuable asset.
Other speakers at the meeting included Sanjay Sinho, health director at CARE, who spoke about the disease’s devastating impact on poor communities, and Kim Moon-Hwan, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Republic of Korea.
Mr. Moon-Kwan, Director of the Office of International Organization in the Ministry’s Human Rights Division, said he was optimistic that the global community, with its advance scientific knowledge, could control any outbreak.
“The danger lies in developing countries,” he said, adding that international assistance from developed countries, including the Republic of Korea, was critical to controlling any epidemic.