Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Bird flu prevention starts in villages: PM

A poultry dealer loads live chickens into a truck at Phnom Penh's O'Russei Market on Tuesday. A conference opened the same day to address coming challenges for Cambodia, as it does its part in the global fight against the disease.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A three-year project funded by the World Bank includes efforts to aid responses to suspected cases of the virus.

COMMUNE councillors and village-level agents from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are at the forefront of the fight to prevent a bird flu outbreak in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday in a speech marking the launch of the Cambodia Avian and Human Influenza Control and Preparedness Emergency Project.

The three-year project, funded by a World Bank grant worth US$11 million, is part of a global effort to direct resources to countries that require assistance in dealing with the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus, which Stephane Guimbert, acting Cambodia country manager at the World Bank, said continued to pose a threat "to the health of the population and to the livelihoods of many small farmers in the region".

Of the $11 million, $5.8 million will go to the Agriculture Ministry to promote animal health, $3.5 million will go to the Ministry of Health and $1.7 million will go to the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) to devise inter-ministerial responses to potential outbreaks, said Nhim Vanda, the NCDM's first vice president.

In his remarks Tuesday, Hun Sen called on officials in border provinces to share information about suspected bird flu cases with neighbouring countries. He highlighted the government's effort to provide SIM cards to village-level animal health agents, which he said would permit them to quickly provide information about such cases to higher-level officials.

"We have given SIM cards to animal health agents in the villages, and when there is a suspected case of bird flu they can report to us," Hun Sen said. "This mechanism is fast, and we can take action to prevent the spread instantly."

Assessing the threat
The conference Tuesday, attended by 600 government officials, NGO members and development partners, included updates on the H5N1 virus and regional efforts to combat it.

Poultry traders load live chickens onto a truck at Phnom Penh's O'Russei Market.

Sorn San, who runs the Agriculture Ministry's bird flu project, said the virus has appeared in 23 different locations in eight provinces: Takeo, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kampong Cham, Kampot, Kampong Speu and Prey Veng. There have been eight recorded human cases, resulting in seven fatalities. He said 18,566 heads of poultry had died of the disease, while 9,862 had been culled.

Guimbert said more poultry cases could occur and that "cross-species infection from poultry to humans is likely to recur".

He cited China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh as countries in which the H5N1 avian influenza virus remains "entrenched" and called on Cambodia to prepare for a potential human pandemic.

Though he acknowledged recent progress in preventing the spread of the disease, he said the Kingdom's efforts had "also highlighted a number of gaps that remain to be filled, including issues related to the capacity of veterinary services".


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