696 views 1 commentupdate:Feb 5, 2007

Thailand plays King Canute with H5N1

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The time has come for Thailand to recognize that H5N1 infection is endemic in non-commercial poultry in the country and in surrounding nations, and develop a more realistic control plan.  By Simon Shane

The proclamation of 29 Provinces as "disaster zones" by the Cabinet of Thailand and their intended approach to control HPAI, is as likely to succeed as the efforts of King Canute of Britain to turn back the tides in 1035. Canute (or Knut) got his posterior wet and Thailand will continue to suffer losses of birds and record fatalities in rural inhabitants living in close proximity to their subsistence flocks.

 

It seems only yesterday that the Deputy Minister of Agriculture predicted eradication of HPAI within weeks of the belated admission that the infection was present in the flocks of his Nation. That was in February of 2004. The policies of "catch-up" slaughter and ineffective surveillance, leading to a false sense of security, have clearly been ineffective. The time has come to recognize that H5N1 infection is endemic in non-commercial poultry in the Country and in surrounding nations. The AI control policy in Thailand has been driven by the presumption that if by a miracle, HPAI could be eradicated, export of raw processed poultry to traditional markets in the EU and Japan would resume. The commercial sector, largely unaffected by clinical outbreaks has moved forward into export of cooked product which is now acceptable to the markets which will receive almost 400,000 metric tons in 2006.

 

The present plan calls for thousands of volunteers to go from door to door to examine backyard poultry for signs of infection. This will only serve to effectively disseminate infection. "Eradication Squads" will systematically destroy all poultry within a 1km radius of confirmed cases. Given that the infection is now endemic, following 4 years of mismanagement and venality, the rate of slaughter will have to be accelerated beyond 300,000 birds in the past month. The second problem with the program relates to the level of compensation. The allocation of 65 million Baht (?1.4 million) to compensate bird owners for losses through forced depletion in June and July represents a value of ?4.7/bird. If compensation is set too high, farmers will deliberately infect flocks, as in the UK during the 1972 ND outbreak. If compensation is too low or if owners are deprived of fair compensation by corrupt officials, cases will be concealed and table-birds and fighting cocks will be moved from quarantined Provinces, leading to further outbreaks.

 

The Ministry of Agriculture should face reality and accept that the disease is endemic in large areas of the Nation. The only viable and practical approach is to initiate a sustained program of vaccination with surveillance to create an immune population. This will be both cost effective and will protect the health of the rural population in comparison to the proposed "more-of-the-same" approach. Compartmentalization will allow continuation of commercial production under high biosecurity with export of cooked product as at present. Long lived commercial poultry including breeders and commercial table egg flocks should also be immunized with appropriate control and surveillance measures. Rural poultry abattoirs under competent supervision and applying ante-mortem inspection should be established to process vaccinated birds. This will displace backyard slaughter which contributes to human cases when infected poultry is defeathered and eviscerated.

 

Now is the time for the Government of Thailand to adopt realistic control measures appropriate to their circumstances. Eradication through slaughter is effective in Western Europe and the USA which have relatively small non-commercial populations and extensive resources to deal with sporadic, limited exotic outbreaks. Slaughter of infected flocks has not worked in Southeast Asia to date and will not be effective in Thailand. Trust me!


By: Simon Shane

One comment

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    kkhom chandrarothaipaichit

    In fact of area in Thai people act with care for protect themself. International inform need to cooperate together not wait for anyone to help after serious,Simon...Thank with comment

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