Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Muslim Brotherhood launches bird flu awareness campaign

Posted by vmsalama on March 8, 2006

Group mobilizes election campaign centers for a new purpose
By Vivian Salama

Daily Star Staff

March 8, 2006

CAIRO: The Muslim Brotherhood has launched an awareness campaign of its own to contain the spread of bird flu and assist Egypt’s dilapidated poultry industry. Strongly criticizing the government’s handling of the recent outbreak in Egypt, the banned but tolerated group has sought to put their recent parliamentary gains into action through financial and developmental programs relating to avian influenza.

bird-flu-in-egypt.jpg

In a statement released by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group claimed “the government’s plan to fight bird flu has been an abject failure,” adding that the nation is “about to experience a new tragedy.”

“The information [the government is] disseminating to the public is wrong,” insists Dr. Mahmoud Ezzet, a virologist heading up the Muslim Brotherhood‘s awareness campaign. “We are not in competition with the government. The Muslim Brotherhood has an abundance of qualified specialists in a number of fields from virology to agriculture and even economists.”

In mid-February, the Egyptian government first announced that between 18 and 20 birds had tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Giza, Cairo and the Delta. Since then, Egypt has been a focus for hasty problem-solving, as it is both the most populated country in the Middle East and Africa, as well as a gateway between the two.

The virus has rapidly spread, with confirmed cases in 13 of the country’s 26 governorates. Prior to the outbreak, Egypt sourced some one million chickens per day – that’s 700,000 tons of poultry meat annually, up from 100,000 tons in 1979, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. In any developing nation that bases its protein intake almost entirely on chicken, bird flu presents a domino-effect of problems that essentially cripples the economy.

“In Egypt two and a half years ago, they took active measures monitoring all the problems,” explains Dr. Talib Ali Elam, regional animal production and health officer for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. “The virus is carried by wild birds, we agree on that. But when you deliver it to farms and you go all over the country, the bird doesn’t take it into the villages. It’s the activity of man. We have to control the movement of birds and people as well.”

The Muslim Brotherhood insists that it is through educational programs at a local level, and not via press conferences and news bulletins, that crisis can be averted. “There are places in Egypt that already have an epidemic,” says Ezzet.  “In southern Giza, and in Qalyoubeyah, the virus is spreading mechanically, not through the air. You step on an infected dead bird or on its feces and you transfer it from one place to another. The same thing can happen with the tire of a car.”

Comparing their bird flu campaign with the aggressive parliamentary election campaign that earned them a record 88 seats last December, the Muslim Brotherhood has mobilized its offices in all 26 governments in an effort to abate false rumors that have spread across Egypt like a wildfire these past few weeks. 

One in particlular claimed that the country’s drinking water had been contaminated by infected birds discarded in the Nile. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have held awareness lectures, distributed millions of pamphlets and visited homes to help Egyptians accurately understand avian influenza. While the group is not providing financial assistance to the poultry industry, which has suffered massive losses since the announcement of the outbreak, Ezzet says it is encouraging the local communities to rally behind chicken farmers and poultry shops.

“This is the beauty of the Arab people – if someone falls into problems, we try to help them,” he insists.  “We are telling people to buy from the farmers. We are explaining to them the proper way to cook chicken to avoid any illnesses – not just bird flu.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations is warning that bird flu has the potential to devastate Egypt’s economy. Worth some LE 17 billion ($3 million) in investments, Egypt’s poultry industry supports an estimated three million people. Since the outbreak was first announced, the price of fish has risen 40 percent, though fish shops report the demand is far greater.

“In this part of the world, you import a lot of livestock,” Elam says. “West Nile Virus, Foot and Mouth Disease, bird flu … we call these Transboundary Animal Diseases (TAD). We have a lot of TAD here. When you move anything around, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Says Ezzet, the time for action is now.  “The government waited until after there was a crisis to tell the people how to properly respond to this situation.  Any action they are taking now is to cover up for their improper handling of the situation when it happened.”  He adds:  “We love our country. The only thing we are trying to do is bring good health and well being to ourselves and our country because this is a very dangerous situation that has the potential to grow to catastrophic levels.”

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