African countries see benefit of bird flu research
An active campaign in providing information about the investigation and the risks of H5N1 has led to active support from African governments. International scale research is essential to provide reliable information on the incidence of H5N1 and on the degree of risk of transmission from wild birds.
Governments have generally been quite eager to facilitate this work, but administrative procedures and coordination amongst agencies have been worryingly slow, considering the urgency of this research.
Wetlands International’s work, together with the French organisation Cirad, is the only internationally coordinated avian influenza research being done on wild waterbirds in Africa and the Middle East. In several surrounding wetlands in Malawi, wild birds contribute significantly to local livelihoods and in the Nile Delta of Egypt knowledge about the disease is vital as the country sits on the cross roads of several migratory routes.
The work includes collecting samples of bird faeces to test for the presence of H5N1, preparing samples for analysis and assessing bird populations.
Field missions are scheduled for early 2006 and 2007. The timing is extremely important in relation to the start of spring migration of birds. Several samples have already been collected from a.o. Malawi, Kenya, Sudan and Egypt and more missions will be undertaken in for example Tunisia and Ukraine.
With the outcome of these missions, an indication will be given whether wild birds in the selected sites are infected or not. This information is essential in establishing the possible role of migratory birds in transmission of the disease.
The risk of H5N1 spreading to more countries could have disastrous effects on global health in wild waterbirds as well as poultry and humans.
Wetlands International acknowledges the positive support of countries participating in the programme and it expects that the outcome of the analyses will help to inform preparations by the authorities.