The Kenyan government is making all-round preparations for any possible bird flu outbreak with measures including importing protective clothing and disinfectants, an official in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries told Xinhua Tuesday.
In an exclusive interview, Director of Veterinary Services Joseph Musaa said that although the east African country has not experienced any avian flu outbreak in the past, the level of preparedness and experience in testing and surveillance is high.
"We have not experienced avian flu, however, we have experience in testing, diagnosis and surveillance for avian flu," Musaa said.
Kenyan specialists are currently testing samples of some 400 dead domestic birds found dumped alongside a road in Nairobi last Sunday, which heightened fears the country may be affected by the current wave of avian flu spread, which has been reported in Africa.
"Africa, like many developing countries, is in need of funds to deal with special difficulties. Cultural practices like keeping of birds in the same houses where people live increase the risk of spread," Musaa said.
African poultry farmers are mostly small-scale growers who use their houses to keep domestic birds. Their ability to deal with a large scale outbreak of the dangerous virus would be perennially below par compared to the commercialized farmers in Europe.
"Kenya has taken several steps in preparing for the bird flu. Surveillance of wild and domestic birds for early detection of the avian flu is already taking place," Musaa said.
Authorities fear an outbreak could have far reaching impacts on the fledgling economy of the country, whose chicken industry, spurring growth in the fastest growing food chain industry, is currently valued at 5 billion shillings (70 million U.S. dollars).
Kenya lies along a major flight path of migratory wild birds from eastern Europe and Asia, a factor the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) think puts several east African states at a critical risk of an outbreak of the virus.
In October, Kenya banned poultry imports from affected nations in a move to curb the entry of the virus.
"Poultry keepers will lose millions of dollars if bird flu is discovered in Kenya. They will also lose cheap source of protein and the risk of a rapid spread to humans is also real," Musaa said, highlighting the need for global cooperation against the flu.
Kenyan officials say the country is collaborating with the international community in the implementation of the WHO, World Organization on Animal Health and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) guidelines on emergency preparedness and responses.
"Kenya has prepared an action plan and is following these guidelines and all activities being undertaken are in line with them," Musaa said, adding that the country also participated in regional brainstorming meetings to counter the bird flu threat.
"We collaborate with reference laboratories for the diagnosis of avian flu," Musaa said.
Health experts said, with the influenza surveillance network set up four years ago, the Kenyan Health Ministry has been able to access rapid and accurate estimates on areas of flu circulation all over the country.
The FAO has warned that an earlier outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus in Nigeria shows that the rest of Africa is in danger from the disease, calling for urgent action to stop the spread of the virus.
Since December 2003, the H5N1 virus is known to have infected 173 people, of whom 93 have died.
So far, the virus has only spread from infected animals to humans, but the WHO has warned that it could change into a form that spreads easily from person to person, triggering an influenza pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people worldwide.