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China must fight ignorance in battle on bird flu

by 5m Editor
6 July 2005, at 12:00am

CHINA - UN experts are counting on China's cooperation to help wipe out avian flu but ignorance among its peasants and communication problems could derail those hopes, a Chinese official said.

China must fight ignorance in battle on bird flu - CHINA - UN experts are counting on China's cooperation to help wipe out avian flu but ignorance among its peasants and communication problems could derail those hopes, a Chinese official said.

The health experts who met in Malaysia's capital this week said Beijing's assistance and openness were key to fighting the bird flu epidemic, which some fear could last a decade in Asia.

Guo Fusheng, a regional coordinator based in Beijing for UN agency the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said China was unlikely to repeat its blunder of 2003 when it withheld information about an outbreak of SARS, which eventually killed about 800 people.

But identifying an outbreak and telling authorities quickly was tricky in a country of 1 billion people, many of whom are illiterate and live in villages several days of travel apart.

"China is so big and some of these diseases have unfortunately been breaking in villages hundreds of miles from the cities," said Guo.

"To people in these areas, who are mostly peasant farmers, transparency is not the issue," Guo told Reuters. "They just don't know what the heck they're dealing with."

He cited the deaths of more than 6,000 wild migratory birds in China's far northwestern province of Qinghai in recent months as an example.

"The local people who saw the birds didn't know how they had died. Even the vet from the nearby town who did the post-mortem didn't diagnose bird flu."

When more birds died, the veterinarian called the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, four hours' drive away, and its officials travelled to Qinghai to collect the carcasses. It took 10 days for bird flu to be confirmed.

Village panels had been set up to carry messages to farmers from the central government, Guo said, but the process for people to report outbreaks was long and unwieldy.

"When an outbreak happens, depending on its seriousness, it is escalated from the village level to the township, then the county, prefecture, provincial and finally national level."

Beijing had handled the bird flu crisis reasonably well, the FAO, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health said at their meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

But they said China could be more transparent, particularly in investigating the WHO's assertions that farmers were using controversial antiviral drugs on poultry to curb the spread of bird flu. Beijing has denied approving the drugs.

The officials said they also hoped to visit China to assess the situation, but Beijing had yet to approve such a trip.

Source: Reuters - 6th July 2005

5m Editor