Tue 14 Mar 2006
Filed under: Health / AIDS,News
Myanmar on Tuesday called for international help to tackle bird flu after the country confirmed its first case of the deadly H5N1 virus in poultry.
“We are still trying to control it. We need help not only with the technical procedures, but also with equipment,” the nation’s top veterinary official Than Hla told AFP.
On Monday, Myanmar’s notoriously secretive military rulers informed the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that they had detected bird flu after 112 birds died mysteriously on March 8 near the central town of Mandalay.
“We have already asked for help from the FAO and other international organizations. Assistance will arrive soon,” Than Hla said.
Myanmar’s state-run media still kept quiet about the outbreak, but residents and hospital officials in Mandalay said they were well aware of it.
“The chicken sellers were not allowed to go inside the market this morning. The authorities told them at the entrance to the market that they cannot enter,” one resident said, adding he heard the news from people at the market.
“Even the egg vendors are not allowed to go inside.”
An official at the Mandalay General Hospital said Tuesday it had received no suspected bird flu patients. After news of the outbreak, the hospital quickly set up a special quarantine room in preparation for any bird flu patients.
Senior FAO official Laurence Glesson said the junta, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, was following international guidelines in tackling bird flu and trying to prevent the movement of any chickens.
“They have also undertaken some intensive searching for any other signs of bird flu,” he said in Bangkok, adding the government had already slaughtered 780 birds and quarantined at least four farms.
“Given the level of their resources, they have handled according to proper procedures… They are following what we regard as proper practices here,” Glesson said.
Patrick Deboyser, an expert on bird flu at the European Union mission in Bangkok, said Myanmar was unlikely to see human cases.
“The risk of human bird flu being spread in Myanmar is rather low because the hot season is starting,” Deboyser said. Avian influenza normally spreads during cooler winter months.
Despite Myanmar’s lack of financial resources, he said the country’s veterinary service was relatively capable.
“The veterinary service is one of the few satisfactory services in Myanmar. It is a pleasant surprise considering the rest of the administration,” Deboyser said.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday warned that Myanmar’s dismal health care system, after years of US and European sanctions, was ill-equipped to cope with possible human bird flu cases.
“In terms of personnel, they are very capable. But in terms of supply, equipment and facility, they need support. In the future if there is a human case, they need upgraded medical facilities,” said a WHO official in Yangon, who declined to be named.
EU’s Deboyser said the fact the junta had swiftly reported the bird flu case was an encouraging sign.
“This is the first case and they are reporting it. That’s good. They are cooperating with international organizations. It shows they are playing by rules,” he said.
So far humans have only contracted bird flu through contact with infected birds but experts fear it may mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, sparking a deadly pandemic.
Three human bird flu deaths reported in Azerbaijan on Tuesday will bring the World Health Organization’s global toll to 101 since 2003 when officially logged.