Bird flu control measures working in worst hit province of Viet Nam
Reduced cull this season
1 February 2005, My Tho, Viet Nam - Control measures strenuously applied against the avian flu epidemic seem to be working in Tien Giang province, one of the most severely hit in the country.
Animal health authorities in the province, whose 165 000 farm families supply nearby Ho Chi Minh City with poultry and eggs, say that between 29 December 2004 and 22 January 2005, only around 100 000 chickens, ducks and quail have died of the flu or been culled, compared to 1.5 million for the same period last year.
FAO guidelines on avian flu control, translated into Vietnamese, helped the country's animal health services to improve these disease control measures, including basic hygiene practices and movement control, essential for halting the spread of the disease.
Part of the reason for the dramatically reduced loss of chickens due to bird flu in Tien Giang is the decision this year to kill only diseased flocks, sparing healthy flocks in the vicinity, unlike the 2003-2004 bird flu season when all poultry within a three-kilometre radius of an outbreak were killed. However, officials say they have learned a lot from dealing with the first round of the deadly disease and control measures are now working and farmers are cooperating to the fullest.
"This year we have been much more active in fighting against the epidemic. We react quickly and cull on the spot," says Nguyen Viet Nga, Director of the Tien Giang Animal Health Sub-department. "We concentrate on education about disinfection and other measure to take, going on television, holding seminars, distributing cassettes and even going to talk about it in schools."
Ms Nga also praised local farmers for notifying authorities of sick and dying birds more quickly than last year, allowing for early intervention and quarantine measures.
Flu found across country
However, bird flu continues to rage across most of Viet Nam this season, with human deaths especially in the north of the country, where cooler weather helps the virus to survive in the environment.
"We have 15 000 members of the department working on movement control, culling and other measures," said Bui Quang Anh, Director of the Department of Animal Health, in an interview. "Twelve ministries are represented on the national steering committee for avian flu including human health, agriculture and rural development."
"FAO and OIE sent experts at the beginning of the outbreak to help us draw up an emergency plan," said Mr Anh. "We have never had this problem before and FAO had more experience with this type of emergency."
The director also said he benefited from an avian flu study trip to the Netherlands in 2003, after the disease had broken out in that country but before it erupted in Viet Nam. Through FAO assistance, Viet Nam has received technical advice, training in how to recognize avian flu cases, protective clothing for veterinarians and other workers and vehicles.
Mr Anh said that Viet Nam especially needs assistance in disease diagnosis, since its seven laboratories were stretched to the limit checking thousands of tissue and blood samples for infection.
"We have had high growth in animal husbandry in Viet Nam and this, along with long borders with other countries, makes control difficult," he said. "That is why I would like to appeal for more support from the international community."
Poor hit the hardest
In Tien Giang province, although financial assistance is given to farmers who lose birds to the flu, poor farm families are having a hard time.
Nguyen Van Tam supports his wife and two children on a small duck farm deep in the lush Mekong Delta. On 21 January, his 330 ducks started acting strangely.
"They suddenly started laying eggs very early and then overnight 100 of them died. I reported it and the authorities came right way," he said, as animal health workers in rubber boots, protective clothing and masks sprayed his farm behind him with disinfectant. The duck carcasses had already been burned and buried in a corner of his garden.
"Without income from the ducks I'm going to have to go and find farm labour in someone else's paddy field and grow a bit of rice on my small field," he said. "It is going to be tough to afford text books for my eldest daughter, who is 15."
In nearby Long An province, also hard hit by the epidemic, Phan Thi Ninh, a farmer with a husband and four children, is distraught as she describes losing 2 200 chickens last year to the disease.
"I owe 30 million dong (US$1875) to the bank. I restocked the farm with the financial assistance I got from the government but I am not sure I can sell the chickens."
Prices for poultry and eggs have virtually collapsed in Viet Nam as consumers, afraid of viral contamination, switch to other meats and fish. Meanwhile, WHO has confirmed that human consumption of cooked (to 70˚ C) poultry meat and eggs is safe and has advised that no cases of bird flu infection have been linked to the consumption of properly cooked meat or eggs.
"I have a son in college in Ho Chi Minh and I have to send him one million dong (US$62) a month and it's not easy at all. I'm really worried," she said.
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