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I have just returned from East Asia where the avian flu issue is being handled in very different ways
China, having learned from SARS, is aggressively trying to ensure that an outbreak does not occur in China, and has put in place surveillance and intervention capacity in high risk areas, culling flocks in a number of areas. Thailand too has been tracking poultry deaths and culling flocks and watching the situation with intensity. Vietnam is paying attention to the problem, but is hamstrung with inadequate resources. A new World Bank loan may help their efforts. Cambodia and Indonesia have done far less, and are at greater risk as a result.
A big problem in the region are the "backyard chickens" that many family raise. A low cost form of protein, free range chickens mix with other fowl, wild and domestic, and place invididual families at risk. But here is where the greatest danger lies because it is almost impossible to keep track of the wherabouts of these chickens and surveillance systems are likely to overlook them. In a country like China it would simply be impossible. Some have suggested banning "backyard chickens" but that poses a multitude of other problems.
Avian flu is being seen by many countries as a health threat, which it is, but early efforts need to focus on animal science not people. Veterinary services tend to be thinly staffed and in weak ministries in much of the developing world. Gearing up means both coordinating between health and agricultural ministrires as well as beefing up survellance and intervention capacity in the latter. And doing so quickly, a difficult task where the stock of expertise is thin.
East Asia is being drawn into the international effort to address this and a number of countries are responding. Some of the others will need help.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.