Following the death of a five-year-old girl from Takeo province last Thursday – Cambodia’s fifth death from bird flu in the new year – health representatives have noted the limits of the government’s ability to control the outbreak.
Circulation of poultry through unofficial means and owners’ unwillingness to risk losing their poultry by reporting sick birds were two impediments to stopping the spread of the disease, said Sonny Krishnan, communications officer for WHO Cambodia, and Dr Philippe Buchy, head of the virology unit at the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge.
Although both Cambodia and Vietnam have tightened the monitoring of poultry due to Cambodia’s recent H5N1 cases, authorities have little power to prevent the movement of free-range ducks from village to village, or even between the two countries, the health representatives said.
“The border is so long,” said Buchy. “Especially if the border is in the middle of rice fields, birds can easily cross.”
Compounding authorities’ inability to inspect all poultry in transit – including those carried casually on motorcycles – was the fact that “there’s no incentive to report poultry deaths”, Krishnan said.
Reports of sick poultry ought to prompt people to take precautions, he said, but instead, poultry owners often begin taking sick and dead birds seriously only after humans start dying from the virus.
Unlike their counterparts in Takeo’s neighbouring Snao commune, the home of one of January’s victims, officials in Prey Lvea, where the latest victim died, would not require the killing and burning of poultry until they had received further orders from Phnom Penh, commune chief Yon Korn said.
But Krishnan said that due to lack of compensation policy, ordering the slaughter of poultry was a local-level decision.You could almost say that H5N1 relies for its spread on poultry farmers' determination to make money, and governments' determination not to spend money.