Children lead bird flu prevention campaign in Moldova
By Elies Miler
CHISINAU, Moldova, 22 September 2006 – Like many children in Moldova, Anne-Maria, 8, looks after her family’s chickens as part of her daily chores. She cleans the coop and collects eggs – a simple task but one that potentially puts her at risk of avian influenza, also known as bird flu.
Moldova has not yet registered any cases of avian influenza, but experts are concerned because it lies directly in the path of migratory birds and borders Romania and Ukraine, where there have been major outbreaks.
In response to the threat, UNICEF has joined the Ministry of Education to launch a campaign in schools teaching children how to avoid infection and what to do if there is a bird flu outbreak in Moldova.
Rules on prevention
Anne-Maria, who lives in the village of Cioara, receives training in her classroom. She is one of the 500,000 school-age children in Moldova who are learning the basic rules on how to protect themselves and their birds from avian influenza. Once they have mastered these, the children receive a colourful information leaflet to take home and are asked to share the information with their families.
Like so many parents in Moldova, Anne-Maria’s mother and father have left the country in search of better job opportunities abroad. Anne-Maria and her brother now live with an older woman they call their grandmother; they haven’t seen their parents in over a year.
At home after school, Anne-Maria repeats what she has learned about avian influenza prevention. She uses the leaflet to explain necessary protective measures such as washing eggs with soap and water before cooking, and making sure they are boiled well.
Campaign on behaviour changes
UNICEF Moldova has experience with helping children act as agents of change. People in the former Soviet republic are aware that the younger generation may have had more access to information than older Moldovans do. Young people are therefore an accepted and trusted source of information.
An intensified mass media campaign is also being launched by UNICEF this month with a focus on the four priority behaviours critical to avian influenza prevention:
The entire community is being involved to make sure information reaches everyone. Local youth councils are organizing campaigns, and religious leaders are arranging events for their congregations.
In addition, Moldova is preparing for any possible outbreak through simulation exercises for veterinary workers and local authorities. If a case of avian influenza is detected, they will know what to do – and UNICEF will continue to promote behaviour changes aimed at preventing bird-to-human transmission of the deadly virus.