Cablegate: Sierra Leone: Exercising Avian Influenza Response Plans

DE RUEHFN #0152 0641921
R 051921Z MAR 07




STATE FOR Crisis Management Support Joseph Kowlaski, Patrick Clerkin
and Lisa Gisvold

E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Sierra Leone: Exercising Avian Influenza Response Plans

REF: A. STATE 22991 B. 06 Freetown 120 C. 05 Freetown 928

1. Summary: Sierra Leone launched a National Avian Influenza
Emergency Preparedness and Response Action Plan in June 2006, but
resource constraints have prevented effective implementation or
testing. An Avian Flu Action Committee meets every few weeks, under
the authority of the Avian Influenza Secretariat. A World Bank
funded team of WHO experts completed an assessment mission to Sierra
Leone in February 2007 and their report is expected in late March.
Although Sierra Leone has carried out no Avian Flu simulation
exercises, in 2006 birds were sent to a UK lab for testing in the
wake of a suspected Avian Flu outbreak; results were negative. End

The Sierra Leone National Action Plan

2. During a March 1 visit with the Ministry of Agriculture, DCM met
with the Dr. Samuel Carew, Coordinator of the Avian Flu Action
Committee, the Acting Director of the Livestock Division, Ministry
of Agriculture and Food Security, Francis Sankoh, and the
Agriculture Ministry Laboratory Director, Dr. Mohamed Barrie. All
said that lack of resources has severely constrained Sierra Leone's
ability to monitor and test the country's effectiveness in combating
an outbreak of Avian Influenza. They also acknowledged serious gaps
in the National Action Plan, launched in June 2006. The Action Plan
identifies high risk areas for Avian Influenza in Sierra Leone and
traces migratory bird patterns.

3. The 2006 Report of the National Avian Flu Secretariat outlines
actions undertaken in the past year to prepare for a possible
outbreak and identifies further needs. Sierra Leone has conducted a
limited Avian Flu awareness campaign. Some posters and leaflets have
been distributed and local health monitors have been taught to be
alert to warning signs of potential outbreaks of Avian Influenza.
Nevertheless the GoSL has little ability to monitor, test, or
sustain a robust education campaign in local languages. Given
adequate resources, they would expand sustained surveillance and
monitoring through collection of samples in high risk areas.

4. With the assistance of international partners, such as FAO, OIE,
UNDP and regional USAID support, GoSL technical experts have been
able to take advantage of regional and international conferences.
Some equipment has been provided to help restore a lab destroyed
during the civil war. However, the Lab Director, Dr. Barrie, stated
that he still lacks the resources for adequate evaluation. The
Lassa Fever Laboratory in Kenema could, in a pinch, provide some
diagnostic help, he said.

6. At the request of the GoSL, a World Bank Funded WHO technical
team visited Sierra Leone in late February to assess the strengths
and weaknesses of the national action plan and identify priority
areas for assistance. The final report is expected at the end of
March 2007.

Inter-Ministerial Committee on Avian Influenza
--------------------------------------------- -

7. DCM also met with the chair of the Inter-Ministerial committee on
Avian Influenza, Minister of Health and Sanitation, Abattor Thomas.
In late 2005, Minister Thomas took the lead in calling together an
inter-ministerial meeting to discuss Avian Flu preparedness. (Ref
C). While acknowledging the need for continuous vigilance, Minister
Thomas admitted that since then the Committee had not met on a
regular basis and said that the National Action Committee was better
able to advise on preparations. Avian Influenza concerns, she said,
tended to recede when addressing some of the immediate health
threats that Sierra Leoneans face. (Comment: Sierra Leone suffers
from an appalling lack of health facilities and resources, and has
the highest child and maternal mortality rate in the world.
Devoting scarce resources to Avian Influenza preparedness is
unlikely to be as high a priority as tackling mortality statistics
or combating endemic diseases in Sierra Leone, such as Malaria,
Typhoid and HIV-AIDS. End Comment)

Testing the National Action Plan

8. While GoSL officials have not conducted simulations to test the
effectiveness of the National Action Plan, they have confronted the
reality of a potential outbreak. In February 2006, the GoSL, with
logistical help from the Embassy, investigated suspicious poultry
deaths on the remote Turtle Islands. (Ref B) A UK lab determined
that the samples tested inconclusive for Avian Influenza. According
the 2006 Annual Report, similar unusual poultry deaths were tested
in the UK later in the year, with negative results.

9. Sierra Leone does not maintain a web site with Avian Influenza

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