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Feb 26, 2007

Health officials prepare for bird flu invasion

Story PictureA five day workshop designed to address the country’s response to the impact of avian influenza and possible pandemic began this morning in Belize City. The event is being organised by the Ministry of Health in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization, the National Emergency Management Organization, and the Belize Agricultural Health Authority. According to local experts, avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a virus that infects animals and can be transmitted to humans. Infected persons can then pass the virus onto to others causing an influenza pandemic. Since the first outbreaks of bird flu were reported, officials here have been discussing national response tactics such as the monitoring of animal populations, clinical management, and vaccine programs … because as Deputy Director of Health Services Dr. Paul Edwards explains, it’s not a matter of if the bird flu will affect Belize, but rather when will the deadly virus arrive on our shores.

Dr. Paul Edwards, Deputy Director, Health Services
“It is very unfortunate that we won’t be able to stop it. However, we’ve got to be prepared when it gets here to contain as best as possible, to be able to prevent, to be able to reduce as best as possible other individuals becoming contaminated with the virus. That is why we are here today, to put those mechanisms in place to be able to best address and contain when it arrives here in Belize.”

Janelle Chanona
“And you feel like what we will be doing will be enough to minimize the damage?”

Dr. Paul Edwards
“Certainly so. That is the whole plan of this week of workshops, to be able to do just as you’ve said.”

“One has to take this threat very seriously. We’ve been able to do some modelling whereby it indicates that if that virus comes here – and this is not a scare tactic but it demonstrates clearly that we’ve got to be prepared – that modelling indicates that there could be possibly about three hundred and fifty individuals who might die; we might need to have more than one thousand five hundred individuals hospitalized; more than seventy-five thousand individuals who will access outpatient services’ and approximately sixty thousand individuals who will be ill and might not access health care services. Now, I say this not to alarm the public but for us all to recognize how critical it is to be prepared. The best prepared we are, we probably will be able to reduce that impact but if we are not, we can only imagine that the numbers and the toll might be greater.”

According to Edwards, the Ministry of Health is now in the operational phase of its response to bird flu and is now in the process of merging its plans with government agencies like BAHA and NEMO and organisations such as the Red Cross. The public is also being told to expect the launch of a communication campaign through the Ministry of Education which would include information on basic respiratory hygiene and proper hand washing techniques. Those plans will be implemented with the assistance of various health workers including the Community Nurses Aide.

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