UNICEF holds seminars in Europe and Central Asia to boost bird flu prevention

UNICEF holds seminars in Europe and Central Asia to boost bird flu prevention

In a further effort to combat the global spread of deadly bird flu, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is holding a series of high-level seminars in Europe and Central Asia over the next month that will stress the importance of working with the media in getting the right preventive message out to the public.

The three-day seminars, which are supported by the Japanese Government, will involve representatives from Ukraine (13-15 February), Azerbaijan (27 February-1 March), Uzbekistan (19-21 February), Kazakhstan (26-28 February) and Tajikistan (5-7 March), UNICEF said.

“Preparedness and timeliness are watchwords in the fight to contain and confront Avian and Pandemic Influenza,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “We are very grateful to the Government of Japan for making these most important symposia possible.”

While avian influenza – or bird flu – is now better understood, most countries of the former Soviet bloc would not be ready to respond to a full-scale pandemic (human-to-human transmission). Seven of the nine H5N1 deaths in the region have been children, so getting the right message to families is critical.

Ministers, deputy ministers and their press officers will be attending the symposia and on the final day, decision-makers in the media – owners, managers, editors and journalists – will be invited to take part. The seminars will cover both internal and external crisis communication and communication chains of command within government and within a country.

Relations between the media and many governments of the region suffer from a post-Soviet legacy of mistrust and lack of transparency, often compounded by less desirable effects of the free market, UNICEF said.

A “meet the media” session will underscore the need for a clear, open and honest relationship between government and media and the important part the media has to play in the event of a national health emergency.

The symposia are taking place within the framework of the UN System Influenza Coordinator in close collaboration with the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and other partners.

There have so far been 272 confirmed human cases worldwide, 166 of them fatal, the vast majority in South-East Asia. Indonesia has recorded the highest death toll – 63 out of 81 cases. Egypt has had 12 deaths out of 20 cases, all since last year. The largest human incidence was in Viet Nam with 93 cases, 42 of them fatal, but none reported since 2005.