Fight Against Bird Flu Brings Together an Army of Workers, Vaccine Makers, Even a Star

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English.  I'm Doug Johnson. And I'm Faith Lapidus.  Today we continue a series of reports about the disease bird flu.  This report will tell about work on medicines to protect people against the disease.  We will also tell about efforts to stop bird flu from spreading.

Experts at the World Health Organization believe the world is closer to a pandemic of the influenza virus than at any time since nineteen sixty-eight.  A pandemic happens when a new flu virus spreads quickly to people in many different parts of the world.  A pandemic can cause many people to become sick or die.  The worst pandemic of the twentieth century killed forty million to fifty million people during World War One.

W.H.O. officials use a six-level warning system to tell the world about the threat of a pandemic.  Right now, we are at level three for the deadly h-five-n-one bird flu virus.  This means that the virus rarely spreads from person to person.

One of the most important activities for the W.H.O. is to lead development of medicines to protect people from bird flu.  A Global Vaccine Action Plan written last year says the world must act now if it is to be prepared for a possible flu pandemic.  The plan says up to ten billion dollars will be needed to research and produce enough bird flu vaccines for all the people in the world.

In the United States, government health advisers urged federal officials last month to approve the first such medicine.  Doctors said the bird flu vaccine is safe, but would not protect most people against the disease.  They said production of the medicine would be a good start until more effective vaccines can be developed.

W.H.O. officials say at least sixteen manufacturers are working to develop vaccines against the deadly h-five-n-one  virus.  More than forty tests of possible vaccines have been completed or are continuing.  However, it takes a long time to test, approve and manufacture a vaccine.  Then the medicine must be given to people around the world.

Poor countries want to make sure they are able to get or manufacture some of the bird flu vaccine. There is also testing of medicines to treat persons infected with the virus.  Some tests have shown that a medicine called Tamiflu can increase the survival rates of those infected.

The W.H.O. has one hundred twelve centers watching for reports of influenza.  When a new virus appears, it should be reported immediately so that it can be stopped before spreading to other countries.

Some countries have not been willing to report or provide new viruses quickly to the W.H.O.  Indonesia announced last month that it would only share its bird flu virus with organizations or persons who agree not to use the virus for profit.  Indonesia later agreed to share the virus, but only after establishment of rules to guarantee a lost-cost vaccine to developing countries.

By March first, one hundred sixty-seven people had died of bird flu in twelve countries in Asia and Africa. Many of those who became sick or died had touched infected or dead farm birds.  Bird flu killed more people last year than the combined total for two thousand four and two thousand five.

International agencies and non-governmental organizations are leading many efforts to stop the spread of bird flu.  They are working to prevent a pandemic and help developing countries become better prepared to fight the disease.  Right now, the W.H.O. says most countries are not prepared for a pandemic.

The United States is working with the W.H.O. and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to fight bird flu in other countries.  America's Agency for International Development has sent two hundred thousand boxes of personal protective equipment to seventy-one countries.  The agency has also prepared boxes of equipment to test for bird flu and clean the areas where it has been found.

Doctors who treat animals in high-risk countries are being trained at a laboratory in the American state of Iowa.  They are learning how to test animals to confirm the presence of the  h-five-n-one  virus.

Last year, American doctors helped the Food and Agriculture Organization open a new Crisis Management Center in Rome, Italy.  The center helps to organize efforts against bird flu and other major emergencies involving animal health or food.

Leaders of some international organizations say poor countries need more money and technical support from wealthy countries.  Some experts say bird flu is out of control in parts of Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.  They say these countries need stronger health care systems for people and animals.

Personal communication and groups working together have been important in spreading information about bird flu.  When the virus was discovered in Nigeria, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worked with local groups to tell people about the disease.  Nigerians had to be prepared to eat fewer eggs and less meat if many farm birds were to be killed.

Farmers in Nigeria were given information about how to prevent the spread of bird flu.  Thousands of people were trained to go from house to house to talk about the disease.  The group Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization and Nigeria's Ministry of Health assisted with these efforts.

Many organizations have created messages to educate people about bird flu.  The United Nations Children's Agency produced a television announcement with the movie star Jackie Chan.  He made paper birds with children while he was telling them about bird flu.

JACKIE  CHAN: "Some birds can pass on a horrible new disease called bird flu.  If we are in contact with sick birds we can get very ill.  That's why you should not touch or play with any birds right now, especially if they look sick.  Got it?" 


The Jackie Chan announcement has been shown on television stations in Nigeria, Burma, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam.  It has been broadcast in many different languages.  The United Nations Children's Agency, the World Bank and other organizations are also producing bird flu announcements for Nigerian radio stations in several local languages.

In Africa, the Academy for Educational Development has created a colorful picture book for children.  The book is called "Zandi's Song."  Zandi is a fifteen-year old girl who raises chickens with her mother.  She learns about bird flu from news reports and from her teacher at school.  Zandi solves many problems during the story. She helps other children tell everyone in her village how to stop the spread of bird flu.  She also persuades an important member of her family to let her to continue going to school.  The book and other teaching materials are available on the Internet.

In some countries, radio announcements have a different message.  In Uganda, the announcements told people not to be afraid of farm birds.  They also urged Ugandans to continue eating chicken since there was no bird flu at that time in the country.  Many farmers there depend on chickens for their earnings.  The birds are also an important part of the local diet.

When bird flu appears for the first time on a farm, the best way to stop the virus is to kill all the birds in the area as quickly as possible.  The World Bank says farmers will report sick animals faster if they know they will be paid quickly for their losses.

The World Bank wrote a report on the best ways to help farmers whose birds have been infected.  The report says countries at risk of bird flu should have a simple plan that states exactly who will be paid, how much they will receive and who will make the payments.  The report also states that farmers should be paid within twenty-four hours of killing their birds.

International organizations are working to educate people about bird flu and leading research into its causes.  They are also working on prevention and treatment of bird flu, and raising money to help poor countries fight the disease.  Yet the first line of defense in each community is each person who raises or works with farm birds.

Next month, we will tell about the steps individuals can take to help stop the spread of bird flu.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Karen Leggett.  Brianna Blake was our producer.  I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Doug Johnson.  Join us again next week at this time for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: Fight Against Bird Flu Brings Together an Army of Workers, Vaccine Makers, Even a Star
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