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World org, India seek media partnership to combat Bird Flu
Published on 30 Mar. 2009 12:02 AM IST
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Admitting that India continues to be highly vulnerable to the infection of Avian Influenza or Bird Flu, particularly due to its proximity with affected countries such as Pakistan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Indian government as well as international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UNICEF have now shifted its focus to the media, seeking a partnership with it to co-create a strategy to generate awareness on the issue and to come up with effective strategies to combat the menace. According to a report received here, during the day-long interactive workshop held at the posh Taj Bengal in Kolkota on Friday, media persons representing almost all the states of the country, officials from the Union Health Ministry, experts from FAO, WHO and UNICEF, shared views and opinions in an effort to come up with effective means to combat the Avian Influenza (AI) or Bird Flu and concurred that the media played the most important role in any crisis or pandemic situation and as such, it should be considered as among the first response team in any given crisis situation. The organizers acknowledged the media’s crucial role in mitigating the risk of Avian Flu among humans by conveying correct information and catalyzing change in behaviors and safe practices of backward poultry farmers, producers, traders and sellers. The meeting agreed that the Northeast Indian region continued to be highly vulnerable due to its borders with several affected countries being very porous and as such “we cannot afford to be complacent”. Seeking the media’s help in mitigating the risks of Avian Flu, the organizers and government officials acknowledged that the media was the only agency that can reach to all sections of society. While informing that a lot of progress has been made with regard to the war against the disease, the organizers and experts warned that while disease has been entrenched in India so far, it has become persistent. After thorough study, prolonged deliberations and brainstorming sessions, the meeting came up with consensus suggestions and opinions including the need for effective and constant collaboration between the government information and medical agencies and the media; that protection and priority be given to the media; that government agencies such as the medical or information departments act as nodal agencies in times of such crisis; that the involvement of the community is a must; that the media should be considered as among the first response team. The meeting also suggested some tools as a must during a time of pandemic situation including setting up of interactive websites and involvement of all kinds of media; setting up of round-the-clock help lines; issuance of do’s and don’ts reservation of TV spots; usage of P.A systems; use of religious institutions for the purpose of making statements to the common man and making positive studies; key messages through diverse media; mobilization of self-help groups, etc. According to the experts, the Indian government first notified the outbreak of Avian Influenza in Nandurpur and Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra, Uchchal district in the neighbouring Gujarat and Burhanpur district in Madhya Pradesh following which massive culling of poultry was carried out in several parts of the country. However, the virus resurfaced in Manipur in 2007 in limited scope and scale, reinforcing the continuing threat of incursion of the virus and establishing the need to prepare for and prevent such occurrences. They also admitted that India continued to be vulnerable to the disease, particularly due to its proximity with affected countries like Pakistan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh and porous borders have heightened the risk of legal and illegal trade of poultry and as such, trade in poultry products or live pet/caged birds serve as a major risk factor. The media sensitization programme, held under the theme ‘Collaborating with Media to mobilize vulnerable communities in combating Avian Influenza’, was presided by Chief of Communication, UNICEF India, Ms. Angela Walker. Eminent experts from WHO, UNICEF, FAO and officials from the Union Health Ministry addressed the meeting as resource persons. Some 50 senior journalists from across the country participated in the programme.

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