Vietnam seeks help in avian flu battle

Feb 4, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Vietnam, mired in a renewed avian influenza outbreak that has led to the death of 12 people and the culling of roughly 1 million poultry since Dec 30, 2004, asked the international community for help this week.

In a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), acting Vietnamese Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat sought technical help to combat the H5N1 avian flu, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Vietnam is seeking foreign specialists in epidemiology, pathology, toxicology, and veterinary medicine as well as lab technicians and equipment, Anton M. Rychener, FAO representative in Vietnam, told the Times. The country has lifted restrictions imposed on foreign assistance in 2004.

Vietnam's request was one of several steps in recent days to improve Southeast Asia's defenses against avian flu. The FAO announced yesterday it would offer $1.6 million in emergency aid to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Pakistan. (Data from the World Organization for Animal Health [OIE] indicate Pakistan has not reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu since January 2004.)

The FAO's technical assistance is aimed at capacity building. It will help countries with plans for culling, training farmers and government workers on culling and disinfection, rapid diagnosis, and mapping out epidemiologic studies, according to an FAO news release from Bangkok yesterday. Additional supplies include protective gear, lab supplies, and rapid-testing equipment.

"These projects are seed money for immediate help," said He Changchui, head of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, in the news release. "More international assistance is needed to enable poorer countries to better deal with the crisis."

FAO and OIE call for aid
The FAO and the OIE on Feb 1 issued a joint statement urging the international community to help poorer countries with avian flu prevention and containment.

"Avian influenza is an ongoing emergency disease that spreads across borders. It has serious implications for the public and animal health sector in the affected countries," the statement read. The new cases this year show that the virus remains endemic in Asia.

Affected countries must stop the spread of the virus by containing it in rural areas, the statement said. The organizations recommended that countries strengthen veterinary infrastructure, improve control strategies, bolster biosecurity, modernize industry practices, and vaccinate poultry where appropriate.

The recent tsunami may worsen the spread of avian flu because the shift in food supply may increase the movement of poultry, the statement said. FAO said it would send an expert mission to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives this week to assess livestock and rehabilitation needs.

Europeans this week offered help to Vietnam fight avian flu. The European Union pledged to give Vietnam 600,000 euros ($772,403) to buy equipment through the WHO, according to a story published online in Voice of Vietnam this week. The contribution is 400,000 euros ($514,859) less than the EU gave during the avian flu outbreak last year.

Experts from the WHO, FAO, and OIE are in the second day of a 2-day meeting at FAO headquarters in Rome. In consultation with veterinary experts from 14 countries, several veterinary officers from Asian countries are participating via teleconference, the FAO said. The goal is to set policies and strategies to control the disease and develop plans for animal and human health.

Thailand announces spending plan
In other developments, the Thai government announced last week it would spend 4.8 billion baht ($124.7 million) to combat avian flu.

The scope of Vietnam's outbreak pushed Thai authorities to adopt the new measures, the head of Thailand's National Avian Influenza Control Center said, as quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Jan 26. Although details were sketchy, authorities planned to prepare 150,000 doses of the antiviral drug oseltamivir, which may limit the severity of human avian flu illness.

The plan also includes preparing additional hospital beds and converting other facilities such as schools into hospitals if needed, AFP reported.

In Laos, authorities have stepped up hygiene efforts at borders and on farms to thwart the spread of avian flu, according to an AFP story today. Each province has its own avian flu task force, in addition to three mobile teams in the country, said Dr. Syseng Khounsy, deputy director of the national animal health department.

"We haven't detected any bird flu infection but we are still investigating," he said in the AFP story. An FAO official had earlier announced that the agency had found no signs of avian flu in Laos.

In addition, the Provincial Bureau of Health in Guangzhou, China, yesterday issued an emergency notice urging authorities to prevent an avian flu outbreak.

No outbreaks have occurred in any of the mainland poultry farms and processing plants that supply poultry products to Hong Kong or Macao, the State Administration for Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine said yesterday, according to a report published by China Daily today. Border checks and crackdowns on illegal animal imports have been increased in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region as well as in Yunnan Province on the Vietnamese border, the paper said.

"Despite no bird flu cases having been reported in human beings and animals in Guangdong this year, we must take effective preventive measures to stop the fatal virus from entering and spreading in the province," the paper quoted an unidentified health official as saying. Poultry sent to Hong Kong also must pass strict inspections.

See also:

FAO's announcement of $1.6 million in aid

Feb 1 FAO/OIE statement

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