Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Afghanistan, Myanmar, Cameroon and Bush

The expected appearance of H5N1 in Afghanistan is now a reality, found in backyard poultry in Kabul and in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Not a surprise but disheartening, as are reports from Cameroon and Myanmar (aka Burma).

All three countries are without effective public health infrastructure. In Afghanistan, continued civil conflict and a government that controls only the capital of Kabul, compound the situation. Myanmar is a military dictatorship and few on the outside know what is happening there. We are told that 112 chickens died on a farm in a town 430 miles north of Yangon and some culling has been initiated (ITV). Cameroon is in West Africa just south of Nigeria, the first African country to report H5N1 infection.
Cameroon became Africa's fourth country to confirm an outbreak of the disease at the weekend when H5N1 was found in one of a number of ducks that died in Far North province, which borders Nigeria.

"From information we have gathered in the field, there was no contact between the farm in Maroua and birds from Nigeria. We suspect there may have been some contact between the farm and wild birds," Aboubakary told reporters. (Reuters)
Poultry markets in the affected area of Maroua have been closed and birds and pigs banned from entry or exit. Preventing poultry and livestock movement in this area sounds like a near impossible task, however.

What is there to say? This virus is spreading into ever new niches. Africa has a huge population of immunosuppressed people and many species of animals that might provide just the right host to allow the virus to change to a virulent form that can easily adapt to humans or a very mild ones that can do the same thing.

The reports each week of new countries affected are now like background noise. While we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, we should be getting ready, and that means strengthening social service and public health infrastructure. I will have more to say about this later in the week.

Here's some advice our high government officials are giving us as we wait:
Planning for a possible flu pandemic shouldn't be just a government task but should be a priority for all households and businesses, officials said at a statewide summit Friday.

"When you go to the store and buy three cans of tuna fish, buy a fourth and put it under the bed," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "When you go to the store to buy some milk, pick up a box of powdered milk, put it under the bed. When you do that for a period of four to six months, you are going to have a couple of weeks of food. And that's what we're talking about." (AP)
Stash milk and tunafish under your bed.

If planning for a pandemic shouldn't be "just" a government task, it should at least be a government task. John Aravosis of AmericaBlog has these pertinent things to say about that:
If bird flu is real, then treat it as real. If the country joins the world in facing a threat that could kill tens of millions of people, then wouldn't the Bush administration's time be better spent focusing on real threats to America's well-being, rather than keeping us safe from contraceptive pills, gay marriage, and naughty nipples on TV? (AmericaBlog)
The nail just got hit squarely on the head with a sledgehammer.