Once hard hit by bird flu, Viet Nam consolidates progress
Donor funding still needed to ensure long-term success
6 December 2006 – The Government of Viet Nam decided early on to make the fight against bird flu priority number one. Because of that decision and the strong commitment that followed both from the government and from the international donor community, many veterinary experts today consider Viet Nam one of the most successful countries when it comes to containing the H5N1 bird flu virus.
Everywhere in Viet Nam people are on guard for signs of the disease. When it is found, culling follows almost immediately. These days it is rarely found, partly because the government has been systematically vaccinating poultry in much of the country. It is a policy that not only works, it has proved to be popular with farmers like Trinh Thi Huyen, who raises poultry and other animals for extra cash and to feed her extended family.
“I’m very pleased with the government vaccination programme because it prevents my birds from getting the virus and that protects my family from getting bird flu,” said Ms. Trinh.
Vaccination programme targets all poultry in a selected area
But vaccination only works if a high percentage of birds in a designated area are vaccinated repeatedly. Commune Veterinarian Hoang Trong Kien explained how it is done: “We vaccinated 100 percent of the chickens in this village, about 12 000, because a few days ago we had an information campaign about this and people signed letters of commitment promising to bring their chickens here so we can vaccinate all the poultry in a village.”
Originally, Viet Nam was hit hard by bird flu, which killed 42 people, second in number only to Indonesia. But, this year, there hasn’t been a single human case of the disease.
Strong government support has been critical to success
The secret of Viet Nam’s success has been strong government support for the battle against the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus strain H5N1, supported by coordinated donor contributions from the international community. While vaccination has been at the heart of the country’s strategy to control the disease, it is only one element in a comprehensive national strategy that includes culling infected and exposed birds, tight control on the movement of poultry, widespread surveillance and testing, improved hygiene measures and better laboratories.
FAO laboratory expert Dr. Ken Inui said: “Avian influenza caused by H5N1 was a tragic event in Viet Nam, but Viet Nam has learned many lessons from avian influenza. Both at the central and local levels the animal health authorities had to make many urgent decisions when no correct answers were known. As a result, overall, Viet Nam’s animal health services have improved very much during the last few years. Of course, the international community has helped Viet Nam a lot with many international donors contributing to the fight against avian influenza.”
Surveillance and testing continue
Donor funding has helped upgrade Viet Nam’s national laboratories to deal with the constant surveillance that continues across much of the country. Dr Ngoc Anh, a lab technician testing for avian influenza at the National Reference Laboratory on Avian Influenza, explains the ongoing work, “Now we have collected samples from birds in Thai Binh Province. Already we have tested over 2 000 samples, but no virus has been found in the whole sample and that’s very promising.”
Threat from bird flu still hangs over the country
Viet Nam is not H5N1 free and though the virus has been held at bay for over a year, that success may not continue. According to Jeffrey Gilbert, FAO Avian Influenza Senior Technical Coordinator, “With the region and other countries recently having had a recurrence of outbreaks, that shows the virus is around, so it would be no surprise at all if there would be further outbreaks. The government needs to maintain its commitment. In particular we need the donors to maintain their commitment.”
A lasting commitment is needed both from countries suffering from the virus and from the international community if a human pandemic is to be avoided.
Bird flu’s spread has been fast. The global response needs to be even faster.
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