Health experts in Uganda are on high alert and ready to counter any outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza, popularly known as bird flu, following an outbreak in neighboring southern Sudan.
Sam Okware, chairman of the National Task Force on bird flu, was quoted by local media on Wednesday as saying that the east African country was at high risk of registering bird flu cases after the deadly virus was confirmed in poultry in the southern Sudanese city of Juba, 180 km north of Ugandan border.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed in several African countries including Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
The World Health Organization has reported 190 human cases of bird flu worldwide, more than 100 of them fatal, and the strain has forced the slaughter of millions of birds as the disease has spread from Asia to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
UGANDA AT RISK
Although Uganda has not reported a single incidence, health experts believe the increased traffic flow to and from southern Sudan elevate the country's chance of being hit by the highly infectious virus.
Traders from central, eastern and northern Uganda are doing business in southern Sudan dealing in items like beer, bananas, tomatoes, cabbages, chicken, soda and fish.
A tray of eggs reportedly cost about 18,000 Ugandan shillings ( 9.7 U.S. dollars) in Juba while in Uganda they cost 3,000 shillings (1.6 dollars), thus prompting Ugandan traders to flock Juba with poultry products.
Okware warned however the problem is that materials like trays and vehicles can bring in the virus, while the close proximity between poultry and human beings on small farms such as the affected homesteads in Juba pose a realistic threat.
Experts believe that another factor that puts Uganda at risk is the many water bodies and its location in the western rift valley, which are sanctuaries for migratory birds responsible for the spread of the disease.
"Avian influenza is a recognized trans-boundary disease. Being in the rift valley, which is a migratory flyway, is a definite risk," said Chris Rutebarika, the assistant commissioner for disease control in the ministry of agriculture.
Uganda lies on major migratory routes of birds moving to southern Africa from Europe and West Africa.
The Ugandan government has formed teams in northern region to help border districts put up rapid response mechanism in the event of an outbreak.
Six more rapid response teams from the agriculture ministry have been strengthened to give support to other "higher-risk" districts bordering water bodies.
Last month, over 40 samples collected from various parts of the country were analyzed at the Uganda Virus Research Institute and results came out negative.
Meanwhile, the ban of the poultry importation is still valid, which was issued following a previous threat as a precautionary measure.
"We have directed border authorities, particularly those with Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to effect the ban except parent stock from the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium," said Okware.