African nations are concerned that a slump in funding from the international community could hamper their efforts to combat bird flu on the continent, officials said.
"The main challenge today in our efforts to combat bird flu in Africa is the level of funding," Modibo Traore, head of the African Union's Inter-African Bureau of Animal Resources, told AFP.
AdvertisementHe was speaking after a meeting of experts designed to unify African efforts against the epidemic that wrapped up Friday in Addis Ababa.
"The trend is negative in the international community and among donors, who maybe expected the disease to have more dramatic effects," he explained.
Asia has been the worst-hit continent since the virus' deadly H5N1 strain first appeared in 2003 but human infections have also been reported in Egypt, Nigeria and Djibouti.
With a total of 38 human cases confirmed by the World Health Organisation and 15 deaths since the start of the year, Egypt has been one of the world's most affected countries in 2007.
The Addis Ababa meeting sponsored by the African Union was aimed at reassuring donors and coordinating strategies among the pan-African body's 53 member states.
The chairman of the World Organisation for Animal Health, Bernard Vallat, said the crisis was being contained but stressed that sustained efforts were needed to prevent further outbreaks.
"At an international level, the epidemic is receding among wild birds and poultry farms. But there are occasional outbreaks in Ghana and Togo," he said. No human cases have been detected in the two countries, which border Nigeria.
"It's reassuring that after three years, the virus still isn't being transmitted from human to human, but we have to remain vigilant because the risk of a pandemic is still serious," Vallat added.
In 2006, Africa had estimated it would need 500 million dollars (355 million euros) to combat the virus.
"It's a small amount when you look at what is at stake," Vallat said.
Yet the continent faces a shortfall.
"We are working with the African Union and other international organisations precisely to reassure donors," said Francois Legall, who supervises bird flu response in Africa for the World Bank.
"We have already released 65 million dollars for sub-Saharan Africa, including 50 million for Nigeria, to finance programmes against the H5N1."
Legall said the most convincing argument to attract more funding was to present current efforts as raising preparedness for future epidemics.
"Through bird flu, we are preparing for the future," he said.
"Major crises are likely to occur because of climate change and 75 percent of them will be of animal origin and will impact on the human and animal population as well as on the economy."
The funds Africa is seeking would also finance compensation schemes for farmers and other incentives seen as crucial in tackling the epidemic in poor countries.
"In Africa, 15 million birds were culled. This is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of birds destroyed in Asia. But if there is no compensation, the farmers cheat and the disease spreads," Traore said.
Since the first human cases were reported in 2003, at least 200 people have died from H5N1 contamination around the world, according to the WHO. Indonesia is the worst-hit country, with 85 deaths.