The Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) with support from European Mission and African Union has ended a one day awareness raising workshop for Journalist s in the Eastern region on Communication for the prevention and control of the highly pathogenic Avian and Human influenza (Bird flu).
The workshop was organized under the AU-IBAR-SPINAR-AHI Project at the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security hall at IDA section along Kenema and Tongo field highway in Kenema city.
In his opening statement Dr.Samuel Carew said Avian influenza (Bird flu) is a viral disease normally affecting birds. It is highly contagious and when contacted, some domestic birds, including chickens, ducks, guinea fowls and turkeys, become sick and die. These types of bird flu viruses do not usually affect humans, but as of 1997 in Asia (Thailand), this concept has changed. The disease is now affecting humans and many people have died as a result. He said the disease is caused by the H5N1 virus strain. He informed his audience that the virus is being transmitted from bird to bird, birds to human and human to human. Explaining about birds to human he said the disease of birds is now seen affecting human through direct contact with body fluids/ blood of the infected birds during preparation of poultry for food, direct contact with droppings of infected birds and handling of infected birds especially humans involved in marketing of poultry and its products.
In his presentation the Communication officer at the Directorate of Disease Control at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation responsible for protecting disease in Sierra Leone, Harrow Thomas said Avian Influenza is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus known as 5N1(Human Neuraminidase) strains. The disease which was first identified in Italy more than 100 years ago occurs worldwide and its incubation period is 7 days after infection. Talking about its signs and symptoms in human he said the onset of AI is sudden. Initially, it will be difficult to have a clear clinical picture of the disease since its signs and symptoms are similar to other respiratory illnesses, which include acute onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, death from an unexplained acute respiratory illness, bleeding nose and gum and general weakness.
Talking about the Responsibilities of journalists in communicating Avian and Human Influenza (AHI) information dissemination, Brima Karl Samura said Journalists are to investigate and assess AHI outbreak situation based on facts for onward Media reporting. He intimated his audience that Avian and human influenza outbreaks continue to pose great challenges to the global Community especially for third world countries like Sierra Leone whose economies and health systems are struggling to stand on their feet. From 2003 -2010, AHI especially the H5N1 and H1N1 virus strains have presented huge Material and human costs for Governments. Total Number of human Cases to date: 493, Number of Deaths: 292 and Communication of AHI is at the heart of the fight in preventing and controlling the disease and journalists/Media practitioners are seen as vital actors to this end. Samura also said the oobjectives of Emergency Communication are to increase the relevant knowledge, promote risk perception, promote behaviors that can prevent and control disease, including, promoting the recommended prevention and containment behaviors, reinforce the positive existing behaviors, and strengthen communication Infrastructure and networks. He urged journalists to confirm with (AI Secretariat) MAFFS/MOHS on truth of outbreak and what messages are best for public consumption.