Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Regional spread of avian flu – FAO offers assistance to Southeast Asian countries

23 Jan 2004 -- Bangkok - With six Asian countries affected by avian influenza, FAO appeals for concerted action by governments for averting a further spread of pathogenic influenza which may also affect humans. The animal disease should be closely monitored, emergency action should be initiated immediately or continue to be implemented in the affected countries, and prevention and preparedness programmes developed in surrounding areas and neighbouring countries.

The number of affected countries in Asia continues to increase. “This confirms FAO’s concern that the spread of bird flu is taking on a large-scale regional dimension,” said He Changchui, FAO’s chief for Asia and the Pacific in a statement.

Although the countries are applying control measures such as culling affected chickens, disinfection, quarantine, control of animal movements and general surveys, the monitoring group in the Bangkok office of FAO confirms that the situation requires further efforts in the region to control the outbreak and avoid further spreading. The situation is closely monitored and updated daily based on information from countries.

“More countries require assistance”, warned Mr He, adding that “FAO relies on accurate information provided by the governments. We are well aware of the threat of avian flu to poultry and humans, but the necessary expertise and knowledge are available – unlike SARS – to diagnose the disease, support countries to contain it and avoid a spread into non-affected areas. Diagnostic tests are available locally or in reference laboratories.”

FAO is now concentrating, together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), on providing assistance and advice to governments, veterinary services, chicken producers and animal traders on how to contain the spread of the disease and avert the risk of a pandemic of flu in humans. At present, the disease has caused significant financial losses to farmers and the livestock industries, and these losses are increasing on a daily basis. Several countries will need outside financial and technical support to implement the required control programmes and rehabilitate poultry industries.

It is essential that financial assistance is provided to producers, in particular smallholder farmers who are dependent on a daily income from the sale of poultry products. This should be accompanied by an information and communication campaign targeted at the general public, farmers, and others subjected to occupational exposure.

At the national level, once the disease is diagnosed all poultry in infected farms and surrounding areas have to be quickly culled. Animal movements and live animal markets need to be restricted; infected poultry houses need to be disinfected, and neighbouring farms need to be closely monitored on any sign of diseases, in addition to more extensive veterinary surveillance. Most importantly, workers and farmers dealing with infected or supposedly infected animals need to wear protective clothing and masks covering mouth and nose.

The possible links between the outbreaks in Cambodia, Taiwan province of China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam are under investigation. Epidemiological studies may reveal the main transmission pathways, paving the way for the establishment of effective early warning and response systems.

As the virus reservoir comprises wild birds and waterfowl, FAO stresses the need for good agricultural practices – including a re-assessment of the way poultry are produced, marketed and slaughtered – seeking to build up sustainable and healthy agricultural systems.

RAP 04/02

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