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Cablegate: Zimbabwe's Avian Flu Response Capability

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001576

SIPDIS

AF/S FOR BNEULING
OES/IHA FOR DR. DANIEL SINGER, REBECCA DALEY
INR/GI RAYMOND LESTER
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVELLE, D. TEITELBAUM
USDOC FOR ROBERT TELCHIN
TREASURY FOR J. RALYEA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO SENV ECON EAGR EAID PREL ZI
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWE'S AVIAN FLU RESPONSE CAPABILITY

REF: SECSTATE 206992

--------------------
Summary/Introduction
--------------------

1. (U) The GOZ has begun planning for a potential avian
influenza outbreak, but lacks the scientific expertise or
financial wherewithal to detect outbreaks and implement
response measures effectively. Burdened by a high HIV
infection rate, growing incidence of tuberculosis, high
emigration rates among health care professionals, and a lack
of funds, Zimbabwe's once robust health care system is
strained but still relatively capable compared with other
developing African countries. While our overarching
bilateral relations are strained, the relationship between
the GOZ and officials of the Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) and USAID remains relatively constructive. Keyed to
the sequence of headings/questions in reftel, information
below is based principally on the knowledge and experience of
Mission personnel from CDC and USAID who work with the
Ministry of Health (MOH). End Summary/Introduction.

--------------------------
Preparedness/Communication
--------------------------

2. (U) We understand from MOH sources that the GOZ does have
a draft avian influenza preparedness plan. The plan is
reportedly based on WHO's Phase III Global Influenza
Preparedness Plan. It has not as yet been made public and is
currently only available to individuals directly involved in
the planning process.

3. (U) Based on its public information campaigns associated
with HIV/AIDS and a recent outbreak of dysentery, the GOZ
would likely report on avian influenza outbreaks in animals
and humans truthfully. The GOZ would also likely emphasize
education to promote outbreak-mitigating behavior. Weekly
independent newspapers and radio broadcasts from outside
Zimbabwe (e.g., Voice of America) offer channels of
communication outside immediate GOZ control for donors and
NGOs.

4. (U) Senior MOH officials chair planning meetings, with Dr.
Midzi of the MOH Infectious Diseases Unit (tel:
263-4-729-032) as the key point of contact. The GOZ
generally does attach importance to public health concerns.
However, it is increasingly absorbed with the country's
economic meltdown, political crises, and chronic HIV/AIDS
epidemic to the detriment of other issues.

5. (U) As part of its planning exercise, the GOZ is reviewing
its laws to ensure that they are consistent with
international health regulations and do not pose barriers to
avian influenza detection, reporting, containment, or
response. We are unaware of any existing regulations that
would likely pose undue barriers. There were no problems in
implementing appropriate protection during the worldwide SARS
epidemic.

6. (U) The MOH is working with WHO, CDC, USAID, UNAIDS, and
other international organizations in its avian influenza
preparedness plan. The GOZ is very sensitive about appearing
to need international assistance but has generally been open
to health-related assistance. It would likely be interested
in USG assistance to facilitate animal and human
surveillance, early detection of avian influenza, laboratory
expertise, and access to drugs. The GOZ does not have a
stockpile of vaccines and is not developing a vaccine for the
H5N1 virus. We are unaware of a liability shield for foreign
makers/donors of vaccines. The prospect for one's enactment
may be clearer after the GOZ completes the review of its
laws.

7. (U) The GOZ is implementing a plan to educate key
constituencies through existing professional associations and
organizations. The state media has reported on the issue
generally but not as a specific threat to Zimbabwe.
---------------------------
Surveillance and Detection
---------------------------
8. (U) There is no laboratory in Zimbabwe that is capable of
detecting and isolating strains of influenza. It is unknown
how long it might take to diagnose given the lack of
laboratory expertise and the fact that the closest laboratory
with such expertise appears to be in Italy. Zimbabwe cannot
subtype influenza viruses and does not currently send samples
out for verification.

9. (U) The GOZ's inability to conduct adequate human and
animal surveillance activities to detect signs of infection
early is the most immediate critical gap in Zimbabwe's
prospective avian influenza response. The GOZ could most
benefit from funding and technical assistance for such
surveillance.

-------------------------
Response and Containment
-------------------------

10. (U) Zimbabwe does not have a stockpile of medications to
handle an avian influenza outbreak.

11. (U) Zimbabwe does not have a stockpile of pre-positioned
personal protective gear in the event of an avian influenza
outbreak.

12. (U) In the event of an avian influenza outbreak, the GOZ
would use its already existing anthrax outbreak rapid
response mechanism. Given the current fuel crisis, such a
response would likely be slow in remote rural areas.
Capacity for animal control has been hampered by the decline
of the agricultural sector and especially by the destruction
of fencing. Nonetheless, the GOZ is developing guidelines
for the culling and vaccination of birds, disinfection of
facilities, and limitations of animal movement.

13. (U) In its draft planning document, the GOZ has
reportedly identified quarantines, including closing schools
and banning public gatherings, as possible measures for
controlling the spread of avian influenza. The GOZ has
successfully shut down schools and banned public gatherings
in other contexts. The military could be involved in
enforcing such quarantines.
SCHULTZ

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