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.
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 they are 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. We are conducting formal studies on the situation at hand and working to mobilize the public."
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 – 700,000 tones of poultry meat annually, up from 100,000 tones in 1979. 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 Food and Agricultural Organization. "The virus carried by wild birds, yes 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 man as well."
"We’ve started educational programs to help people understand the nature of the virus," adds Dr. Ezzet. "There are places in Egypt that already have an epidemic. 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 to their aggressive parliamentary election campaign that earned them a record 88 seats, the Muslim Brotherhood has mobilized its offices in all 26 governments to carry out their urgent message regarding the outbreak. In an effort to abate false rumors that have spread across Egypt over the past few weeks – particularly one which claimed that the country’s drinking water had been contaminating 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.
International Herald Tribune/The Daily St