Though India has a strong diagnostic system and response plan for bird flu, it needs to improve detection of the disease and address the problem of under-reporting of cases, according to John Weaver, Chief Technical Advisor, Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
Dr. Weaver, who headed an FAO delegation to a two-day surveillance training programme on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) here recently, told The Hindu that it was important for a country like India to develop the capacity to investigate and control bird flu and other animal diseases.
The workshop, which concluded on Wednesday, focussed on detection and monitoring of the disease. Veterinarians from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and Lakshadweep were exposed to surveillance methods, data capture and epidemiology of the disease to understand its behaviour, biology and characteristics.
“By doing that, you identify the risk factors for diseases, why some animals and populations are infected and some are not. By understanding that, you are better able to target susceptible groups,” Dr. Weaver said.
“India has a problem with under-reporting of bird flu cases. It means the infection is continuing to fulminate and spread. Detection and identification of the reservoirs of infection is crucial. It could be in migratory birds, ducks, or markets.”
Highlighting the need to understand the risk factors, he said, “Some States like Tamil Nadu have a big commercial poultry sector but in north India, the commercial sector is smaller; there you have lots of backyard chickens running around. So, the risk factors are different because the management systems are different”.
India, he said, had a strong central response plan for bird flu, a strong diagnostic system with very good laboratories, and a decontamination system for infected areas.
“What does not work so well here is detection of the disease, particularly in the backyard sector.”
He went on to explain, “Chickens commonly get sick. People often do not report sick chickens because they do not see the need to. This is confounded by the fact that if you report, the government’s response is to cull chickens. This proves to be a disincentive to report.”
Incentive to report
Dr. Weaver said the under-reporting of cases could be tackled by addressing the issue of compensation and creating community awareness for reporting the disease. It was important to develop an incentive to report, he added.Nothing Dr. Weaver said will be news to India's national and state authorities. At least since the outbreaks in West Bengal four or five years ago, backyard poultry raisers have resisted culling efforts because they know the authorities will pay them little or no compensation for their losses.