FAO to Draw Up a National Bird Flu Control Campaign

ROME and BANGKOK, Thailand The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations will assemble an emergency team of experts in Indonesia to help the country embark on a new phase of the battle against avian influenza at source in poultry, the UN agency announced today.

"The serious bird flu situation in Indonesia, where several human death cases have been recorded recently, requires a strong coordinated response involving all players from the national level down to the many districts and local communities," said Joseph Domenech, FAO's chief veterinary officer.

"The bird flu virus is threatening to become endemic in several parts of the country," Domenech said. "We are very much concerned about the presence of the virus in the small flocks of millions of backyard poultry farmers. There still seems to be a lack of awareness in the rural and suburban communities about the threat the virus poses to humans and animals. Big poultry producers have generally managed to protect themselves, because they have the knowledge and means to mount effective biosecurity and virus control," Domenech said.

FAO aims first to set up a task force involving national veterinary authorities, ministries, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Program for logistical support.

"Our basic objective is to kick-start virus control activities in the field. FAO will therefore establish local disease control centers in hot-spot areas. These centers will offer up-dated information and will train animal health technicians and veterinarians in how to carry out rapid disease search and control," said Peter Roeder, animal health officer who will head the FAO team in Indonesia.

One element of the approach will be to define affected areas by animal health workers systematically going from house to house to search for sick birds and decide with Indonesian authorities on control measures such as slaughtering, vaccination, and biosecurity. Initially, the project will mainly focus on Java, where most of the human deaths have occurred. Non-governmental organizations are expected to play a key role in community outreach and coordination activities.

"This military-like approach against avian influenza has proved very successful in Thailand. FAO will bring in a team of experienced Thai veterinarians to share their experience with Indonesian animal health experts and to train hundreds of animal health technicians. We believe that Indonesia can learn a lot from the Thai experience," Roeder said.

The project will also explore further the possibility of compensation for farmers. "Killing an infected chicken is still a big economic loss for many poor farmers and they are therefore often reluctant to abandon their flocks. We have to do everything to make farmers our main allies in the battle against bird flu," Domenech added.

Domenech stressed that the search for the virus in local communities could be more efficient if a kit for rapid virus tests was available.

"Unfortunately, such a kit for testing animals on the spot does not yet exist and we are still dependent on time-consuming laboratory tests. FAO therefore appeals to researchers in universities and biotech companies to urgently develop such an important tool," Domenech said.

The FAO emergency project in Indonesia will be funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with $1.5 million.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations