Thailand shares secrets of success
Thirteen ministries, two million volunteers took part
Bangkok, Thailand – These days, animal and human health officials, not to mention poultry farmers across the country, are breathing cautious sighs of relief as they dare to hope that the country may have successfully brought bird flu under control.
The battle has been long and hard and the losses great, including the death of 14 people from bird flu in 2004 and 2005. Millions of chickens, ducks and geese across the country of some 65 million people died of bird flu or were destroyed. When the disease swept across Thailand in 2004, more than half of the country’s 76 provinces were affected. But, as of May 2006, there has not been a single human case of bird flu in Thailand for almost a year and no poultry cases for six months.
Dr Oraphan Pasavorakul, in the Bureau of Disease Control, explains how her country got to grips with avian influenza (AI): “As the first wave of AI hit Thailand in 2004, we turned to FAO, OIE and WHO for guidance on ways to contain outbreaks we faced and they gave us strong guidance and support that has helped us get where we are today.”
Speaking from the bird flu "war-room" in the Department of Livestock Development, Dr Pasavorakul says, “Gaining the upper hand over AI took the cooperation of many sectors in Thai society, as well as assistance from international organizations like the FAO, OIE and WHO.”
Thirteen government ministries were involved in containment efforts, including the ministries of defence and the interior. The army and police were enlisted to help livestock officials cull infected areas and control the movement of animals, poultry products and people.
Today, the battle continues with the hope of wiping out the disease in commercial poultry within two years and in backyard poultry, other birds and animals within three years. The strategy also aims to have no animal-to-human transmission by the end of 2007.
“The three most important steps we took to control AI,” says Dr Pasavorakul, “were intense and constant surveillance, we call it X-ray surveillance, fair compensation for culled birds, continuous poultry inspection and control of all poultry movement in the country.”
Thailand mounted an unprecedented campaign to bring H5N1 under control, fielding some two million volunteers to knock on every door in every village in search of sick poultry. Live poultry markets in the country are also monitored for birds with signs of illness.
Animal health authorities culled affected areas, paying farmers 75 percent of the local market price for their poultry. Affected areas were promptly disinfected and dead birds and infected materials were buried. Areas suspected of being infected were quarantined and the movement of poultry and animals was controlled within a 10-kilometre radius for 30 days.
Watching the roads
Travelling across Lopburi province north of Bangkok, large poultry-laden trucks can be seen stopped on the side of the road, for inspection, disinfection and sometimes quarantine. Surawut Sinseubpol, chief of the Lopburi animal quarantine station, says: “Surveillance and containment are the two main pillars to halt the spread of animal disease. At this station alone, we inspect the transportation of more than one million chickens a month.”
More than two years since the first major outbreaks, the cost of Thailand’s X-ray surveillance programme is looking like money well spent. Though no one dares to say the disease has been defeated, yet.
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