Bird Flu Alert

Reports about the confirmation of an avian or bird flu outbreak as contained in a story elsewhere in this edition make disturbing reading.

At the time of going to press yesterday, confirmation of the health alert had come from the principal medical research centre, the Noguchi Centre for Medical Research in Accra.

Ghana has just come out of a cholera outbreak but her escape from the lethal Ebola virus which rocked the foundations of other West African countries was the luckiest, as it was expectedly greeted with gratitude to God.

Now that some birds have tested positive to avian flu, the need to wake up and act is certainly a necessity. It is also a fact that we are not listening to a development from a faraway Asian country but right on our doorstep or backyard.

Avian flu, which for now is confined to bird-to-bird transmission, could develop into bird-to-human when it is not handled properly.

It is our hope that the relevant authorities are playing their parts in a coordinated manner that would enable us to contain the outbreak in its infantile stage before it advances to an epidemic.

In a country where things, no matter their magnitude, are taken rather lightly as could be the case with the reported avian flu, the need for education and action cannot be marginalised.

Most of us, even the educated, have limited knowledge about the avian flu and would hardly notice any of its symptoms, let alone what to do.

Recently, there was massive public information about the vaccination of dogs following the limited outbreak of rabies in a part of Accra.

Public address system-fitted vans were visible in nooks and crannies of Accra blaring out messages about venues for the vaccination. It worked.

We call on the relevant authorities to mount a more vigorous campaign to educate Ghanaians about what avian flu is all about and the preventative measures required under the circumstances.

The free range system of rearing domestic fowls or the traditional method is still prevalent, and should the outbreak develop to another level of bird-to-human mode, then we would have an emergency on our hands.

When the need arises the culling of infected birds should be undertaken without delay and hindrance from farm owners. The relevant authorities know what to do and do not have to be taught what to do under the circumstances. We are only constrained to remind them about how to manage the hurdles that they might encounter should stringent measures be the only option.

It is unfortunate that the poultry industry is going to be hit hard by this development; but with the health of humans paramount, no action would be too much in our quest to ensure that the avian flu is stopped from going beyond its current stage.