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Avian flu has hit international news headlines again. Nigeria has reported the first human death in sub-Saharan Africa, the United Kingdom is going through its first outbreak among poultry, and in Southeast Asia avian flu continues to simmer, with ongoing outbreaks and human deaths.

The agent responsible - the H5N1 influenza virus - could spark a pandemic to rival those of the last century that killed millions of people. Africa is where Southeast Asia was three to four years ago. Outbreaks of avian flu in poultry are repeatedly reported in Nigeria and Egypt. Other outbreaks in Niger, Cameroon, and Djibouti have fortunately been contained, but neighbouring countries like Togo, Ghana and Chad are still at high risk.

We must not stand by and let history repeat itself. Every available force must be mustered to limit H5N1's spread across the continent.

Communication holds the key

African countries must urgently make the media a full partner in national preparation plans.

Until recently, the African media has been ill prepared to report effectively on outbreaks of avian flu. The first African H5N1 outbreak, among poultry in Nigeria last year, led to sensational media headlines causing public alarm and panic. The media must be empowered to correctly and authoritatively cover avian flu issues.

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