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Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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United Nations Calls for $20 Million to Fight Avian Flu In West Africa

On the same day that the last four Ebola patients were released from a hospital in Liberia, the United Nations announced West Africa faces a new problem: the spread of a highly virulent avian flu.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for $20 million on Monday to fight the disease, which has spread across the region in the past six months.

Outbreaks of avian flu have occurred on poultry farms and family holdings in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. Once the outbreak occurs, the standard response is to kill all infected and exposed poultry, dispose of the dead birds, and disinfect the premises. In Nigeria alone, 1.6 million birds have been killed since last year.

Chicken is an inexpensive and healthy source of food in West Africa, and its production has grown rapidly in the past decade. In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, poultry production has increased by 60 percent since 2006. If the disease spreads, the chicken population could die off rapidly, leading to a negative impact on peoples’ diets and the economy of the region.

There are 330 million people in West Africa, where the virus has resurfaced. FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) are closely monitoring the situation, working on contingency plans and investigating cases of the flu. FAO has also carried out assessment missions to Benin, Cameroon, Mali and Togo, other countries in West Africa. Although there are no cases of the virus there yet, FAO believes that they need to enact preparedness measures.

“Based on what we do know, there is a real risk of further virus spread. Urgent action is needed to strengthen veterinary investigation and reporting systems in the region and tackle the disease at the root, before there is a spillover to humans,” Juan Lubroth, Chief of FAO’s Animal Health Service Division, said in a statement.

This strain of avian flu, H5N1, is a highly pathogenic strain of the disease. The first cases of it transferring to humans surfaced in Hong Kong in 1997. In 2003 and 2004, it reemerged and spread from Asia to Europe and Africa. This spread has led to the virus becoming entrenched in the poultry populations of some countries.

H5N1 has caused millions of poultry infections and several hundred human infections. Most of the time, humans become infected because they interacted directly or indirectly with infected live or dead poultry. It is highly fatal, although some antiviral drugs, such as oseltamivir, have shown some evidence of increasing the chances of survival in infected humans.

Due to the fact that H5N1 continues to be present in some poultry populations and can cause human deaths, the WHO believes that it has potential to become a pandemic.

Over a decade ago, Homeland Security Today warned of the consequences of a global avian influenza pandemic. Editor-in-Chief Anthony Kimery reported that in a worst-case scenario, a pandemic could kill a mind-numbing 2 million Americans and hospitalize another 10 million, an unknown number of whom would also die because of vaccine and anti-viral medication shortages and a cascading collapse of the health care system, according to a White House estimate.

Furthermore, a worldwide pandemic could also shut down world travel, close borders, disrupt global supply chains, overwhelm health care systems, deplete medicines and vaccines and “ignite social upheaval that could spiral into pandemonium and anarchy.”

The current avian flu outbreak comes on the heels of the Ebola epidemic that spread throughout Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia in West Africa last year and killed over 11,000. The outbreak—the deadliest in history—completely overwhelmed local hospitals and crippled the economies of these three countries. In fact, the World Bank estimates that they will lose at least $1.6 billion in economic growth in 2015.

The global and US response to the Ebola outbreak calls into question whether the world is prepared to face another major pandemic. The Ebola outbreak highlighted serious underlying gaps in the country’s ability to handle severe infectious disease threats and control their spread, according to the 2014 Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases report released by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the end of last year.

“Over the last decade, we have seen dramatic improvements in state and local capacity to respond to outbreaks and emergencies,” said TFAH Executive Director Jeffrey Levi. “But we also saw during the recent Ebola outbreak that some of the most basic infectious disease controls failed when tested.”

“The Ebola outbreak is a reminder that we cannot afford to let our guard down,” Levi added.

FAO aims to be better prepared for another major public health crisis. The organization wants to use the $20 million to improve veterinary systems in West Africa, as well as improving local laboratories and sending FAO specialists to the area.

“We’re looking at a disease — H5N1 — that has already spread to five countries in six months. We have to make a concerted effort to stop it in its tracks and we have to do it now,” Lubroth said.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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