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Authors

  1. Sofer, Dalia

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Will the avian flu turn into a Hitchcockian nightmare? The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning that an emerging strain of influenza could cause as much damage as the flu pandemic of 1918. In July Indonesia confirmed that an avian flu subtype, H5N1, was associated with the deaths of three people-a father and his two daughters-and another death was confirmed in September, bringing the total number of human deaths caused by the virus around the world to 64. (Previously, only Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia had reported deaths from avian flu.)

 

Carried by migrating wild birds that shed the virus through their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces, H5N1 can contaminate susceptible birds-including chickens, ducks, and turkeys-that come into contact with it. It's believed that humans may become ill if they in turn come into contact with infected birds. While the virus had been contained in Southeast Asia, it was recently found in birds in Russia and Kazakhstan, and scientists believe that it's only a matter of time before it arrives in Europe and the United States.

 

Both the Senate and House have introduced the AVIAN (Attacking Viral Influenza Across Nations) Act of 2005, urging the United States to stockpile antiviral medications. Currently-according to the Century Foundation, a nonprofit organization that conducts public policy research-the United States has ordered only 2.3 million doses, which would cover less than 1% of the U.S. population.

 

President Bush, in a speech to the United Nations on September 14, announced the creation of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which calls for transparency in reporting on infections and the mandatory provision of viral samples to the WHO in order to contain the spread of disease.

 

Fear and loathing in Zimbabwe; hundreds of thousands are left homeless. In May 2005 the government of Zimbabwe launched a campaign called "Operation Murambatsvina" (or, loosely, "Operation Restore Order"), which it claimed was designed to drive away illegal dwellers from its cities. But according to a report by UN special envoy Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, the operation was "carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner," leaving an estimated 700,000 people without a home, a job, or both. Tens of thousands of children no longer have access to school, and many of the sick, including those with AIDS and HIV, cannot receive treatment.

 

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch called Clear the Filth: Mass Evictions and Demolitions in Zimbabwe, disruption of treatment for people with AIDS and HIV is likely to increase resistance to medications and lead to a greater number of opportunistic infections. To make matters worse, claims the report, Zimbabwean authorities are refusing to cooperate with humanitarian groups that are trying to assist the displaced population.

  
FIGURE. An agricultu... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. An agriculture ministry worker sprays disinfectant inside a fowl cage in Jakarta, Indonesia, on September 26. Indonesia's death toll from bird flu has risen to six (worldwide death toll is 64) and the government has ordered more than a half-million tablets of antiviral medicine to fight the disease.