UN body commends India for controlling bird flu outbreak

February 29th, 2008 - 12:39 am ICT by admin  

New York, Feb 28 (IANS) The United Nations has commended India for controlling the outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in West Bengal state through swift and comprehensive measures. But continued vigilance by the country’s authorities was crucial, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said here Wednesday.

“Intensive culling in the predominantly backyard poultry sector appears to have stopped the disease in its tracks,” Mohinder Oberoi, a veterinary expert of FAO, said after a recent field trip to the affected areas, where no new cases have been reported since Feb 2.

FAO’s chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech, however, urged India to maintain intensive surveillance in high-risk areas as the possibility of new occurrences remains high.

“The virus could still be present in the environment despite heavy slaughtering and extensive disinfection of affected areas, or it could be reintroduced from other countries,” he said.

The outbreak in West Bengal in January forced culling of birds in some adjoining states also. Outbreaks of the avian flu have also been reported from parts of Bangladesh, including a fresh outbreak on Feb 3.

FAO officials praised the Indian authorities’ political and financial commitment to stamp out the disease. They said public awareness campaigns, a strong command chain from districts to villages, compensation payments and an effective collaboration between animal and human health departments at field level have been the key factors in the success.

To achieve rapid control and to avoid the risk of human infection, the West Bengal government had to cull over 3.9 million chickens and ducks, mainly belonging to poor backyard poultry farmers. The state incurred a loss of Rs.5 billion, according to a senior government official.

“Public awareness campaigns should continue over the next months introducing rural communities to safe poultry production and basic biosecurity measures with the ultimate goal of reducing the risk of human infections,” FAO said in a press release.

In addition, the UN agency recommended that the socio-economic impact of the control campaign be urgently assessed to better define and apply measures to mitigate the impact of massive culling on poor small holders. Live bird markets, migration of wild birds and transportation routes of birds and poultry products should be mapped to better understand and control the spread of the disease, it said.

FAO, in collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health, has invited India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to meet to better coordinate regional avian influenza control campaigns.

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