The way Malawi responds to emergency situations, be it natural disasters or diseases, has been a cause for concern in the past few years.
For instance, the floods that the country experienced in the past few years exposed the gaps in the response system and many people were concerned that if a serious outbreak were to occur, the country would be in trouble.
The bird flu scare – which is a result of reported cases in both Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe – calls for decisive interventions to ensure safety of Malawians.
It is good news that Ministry of Agriculture has assured the nation of the measures put in place to prevent bird flu in the country. It is encouraging to learn that the country has intensified its ban on the importation of poultry and poultry products from Zimbabwe and DRC.
Although unrelated, the ban on poultry importation in itself raises questions over Malawi’s trade restriction policies. While such policies have promoted trade to flourish between Malawi and the other countries, there should be a way of protecting the local industries too.
We believe that if the local poultry industry can supply enough in the period the importation ban is enforced, it is a clear indication that we can do without poultry and poultry products from other countries in the region which will in turn boost the local industry.
That said, there is need to clearly understand that Malawi borders are porous and any importation ban would face challenges. Of course, it should be the responsibility of the government to make sure that our borders are secure but if that fails, every Malawian should be patriotic enough and be responsible to protect the greater population from the threats of bird flu by reporting any suspicious movement of traders in and around our borders.
It is important to appreciate that bird flu is a highly contagious disease which is transmitted through contact with infected domesticated and wild birds. It can cause deaths to humans and with the already strained health sector, Malawi would face challenges containing it.
It is our hope that the government will continue engaging the stakeholders to make sure that the interventions are effective. There is need for awareness among the communities and poultry farmers who should report any symptoms which will make it easy for early detection.
We believe the bird flu scare is an opportunity to seriously look at emergency health response and assess whether the systems are capable of dealing with an emergency in case of an outbreak.
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