Tue 25 Apr 2006
Filed under: Health / AIDS,News
Bangkok: Thailand, where bird flu has not re-emerged for months, is tightening border surveillance and giving equipment and training to poorer neighbours battling the disease, officials said on Tuesday.
The stepped-up effort against H5N1, the virus which has killed 14 Thais since 2004, followed a ministerial meeting on Monday to discuss the threat posed by outbreaks in neighbouring countries, such as Myanmar and Cambodia.
“Even though the bird flu situation in Thailand has calmed down, we cannot rest,” Health Minister Pinij Charusombat told the meeting.
“Scientists worldwide expect bird flu to spread further this year and there is the possibility of a human pandemic because the virus could mutate,” Pinij said.
Thailand, which has banned imports of live poultry from Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia, has also imposed stricter border controls to prevent poultry smuggling.
Once among the worst-hit countries when the virus swept across parts of Asia in late 2003, Thailand has not reported a case in more than 4 months.
But the virus is spreading fast in secretive, military-ruled Myanmar, which is now battling more than 100 outbreaks in poultry since H5N1 was found a month ago.
In Cambodia, where a 12-year-old boy became the country’s sixth bird flu victim earlier this month, bird flu persists mainly in provinces abutting Vietnam, the hardest-hit country in terms of human deaths.
The Thai cabinet was to decide on Tuesday how to allocate 100 million baht ($2.6 million) previously approved for assisting neighbours in bird flu surveillance.
EYE ON BORDER
Health officials are bracing for a possible bird flu outbreak along the Thai-Myanmar border, fearing the disease could come across in smuggled poultry.
“We have been on alert. We have been following the situation closely,” Patjuban Hemhongsa, chief medical officer in the border province of Tak, told Reuters.
Bangkok has urged vigilence by non-governmental organisations and medical teams working with refugees who fled the former Burma and live in camps on the Thai side.
Chris Lom, spokesman for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), said “generally, the camps are very well covered in terms of monitoring and in terms of preparation”.
Thailand has sent experts to Myanmar to provide training on collecting samples, diagnosing and building a database to combat the spread of the disease.
But there is a serious lack of resources in a country decayed by 40 years of military rule.
Health workers in the field are poorly equipped, no monitoring system for poultry is in place and villagers forced to cull birds receive little or no compensation, raising fears that they will hide sick birds, Thai officials say.
“It’s weak point is that they do not have a monitoring system for indigenous chickens,” senior Thai Agriculture Ministry official Nirandorn Uangtrakulsook said.
“Also, it is difficult to get access in remote areas due to the lack of communication,” he said. ($1 = 37.54 Baht)