WASHINGTON - February 22 - On the eve of a crucial UN meeting on bird flu, ActionAid International warns that public health precautionary planning is not enough, warning that the poorest countries face an information blackout on bird flu, as health authorities are yet to produce even simple education materials.
Dr. PV Unnikrishnan, ActionAid International emergencies adviser, said, "In view of potential high mortality figures, it is important that we move beyond the current technical and medical ethos and place equal emphasis on people - not just the virus and carriers."
In the developing world, he added, over 70 percent of people live in rural communities alongside their bird and animal stocks, earning a living from subsistence farming. Endemic poverty, in Africa made worse by the AIDS epidemic, leaves the world's poorest at huge risk.
Unnikrishnan added, "Despite the recent outbreaks of bird flu in Nigeria, India and elsewhere, the world still has a window of opportunity. But it is getting smaller every time a new country reports fresh infection. It is time to widen the planning process to match the urgency of the challenge."
ActionAid International experts say that a multi-pronged approach is necessary in developing response strategies for bird flu in the developing world:
-- Urgent dissemination of simple and practical information via mass public information campaigns.
-- Internationally-funded generous compensation schemes to protect the poor, their livelihoods and their means of survival.
-- In-country monitoring to prevent discrimination against groups on the margins of society, such as rural people, squatters and slum dwellers.
-- Strengthen public health systems and make essential medicines accessible and affordable for the poor.
Said Unnikrishnan, "We live in a small world. If we don't act quickly, we will see a human epidemic. And the likelihood is that this will happen first in a poor community in a developing country. Yet, the poorest are currently at the bottom of the list as far as global preparations are concerned. Not only is this unjust, it is also foolish."