Bird flu continues to cast a shadow over Asia. Indonesiareported its 101st human case of bird flu on the 23rd June.
The situation in Indonesia is particularly sobering, since more than 40 percent of bird flu deaths worldwide have taken place in Indonesia according to the World Health Organization. Also in Vietnam, the avian flu has suddenly made a comeback. AP reported that five people have been infected in five weeks “after no human cases had been reported for a year and a half”, highlighting the unpredictability of the outbreaks. The last outbreak was in 2003, when the virus severely threatened Vietnamese poultry stocks and took dozens of lives in Vietnam. The recent re-emergence of bird flu raises the death toll inVietnamto 44, according to AP.
The need for ways to combat a possible human epidemic has motivated various medical research collaborations throughout the region. Thailand gave Cambodia numerous bird flu test kits, latex gloves and Surveillance and Response Team equipment as part of a cooperative strategy to fight the virus. In Indonesia, early detection kits and human vaccines would be ready for distribution by July. These kits were a joint initiative by the Indonesian Health Ministry and Singapore's Temasek Life Science Laboratory. Over in Vietnam, there are three research drives to find a bird flu vaccines. One of them is soon going to begin trials of the vaccine on humans. AFP reported the director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE) in Hanoi Nguyen Tran Hien saying that “Preparations for the clinical test of a human vaccine have been basically completed…Twenty to 30 volunteers will be chosen to test an H5N1 vaccine produced in Vietnam”.
Indonesia said it planned to use the vaccine as early as July. However, the World Health Organisation is opposed to having human vaccines being put to use immediately. According to the Jakarta Post, WHO urged Indonesiato stockpile the human vaccine first, but Indonesian Health minister, Siti Fadillah Supari responded “That may work for developed countries, where human cases are yet to appear, but we already have human cases, we are in the middle of a war and we should not be stockpiling anymore.”
Efforts to prevent the spread of avian influenza amongst the supply of poultry have been undertaken throughout the region. Some of them have been a bane to poultry suppliers. Bans have been placed and lifted, upsetting the supply chain. In March, Singaporehad placed a ban on all fresh chicken and eggs from Selangor, causing duck farmers to suffer considerable losses. Channel News Asia reported that one Malaysian factory “lost 75 percent of its customers and had to cut labour cost”, and one vendor's “sales dipped 78 percent in the past months”. It also said that the “Poultry Merchants' Association [inSingapore] expects it could take about six months before supply stabilises”. Meanwhile, eastern Sarawak intends to confiscate all poultry products brought in from Kalimantan. Bernama reported thatSarawak's wildlife officials and the police would tighten security measures to make sure live birds would not be smuggled through the border.
In Vietnam, the state budget has been strained by bird flu. Head of the Veterinary Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Bui Quang Anh has advised the Government to cease the subsidisation of vaccinations. This year, 125 billion VND (US $7.8 million) was spent on vaccinating poultry, and Bui suggested that the Government should move the initiative to “localities and people” to continue with vaccinations. Vietnamfaces a high risk of outbreaks in the Mekongdelta. Avian influenza, with its unpredictable nature, widespread effects on the poultry market and the possibility of becoming pandemic disease, remains a formidable threat to human security in Asia. It has also spread beyond the region to the Middle Eastand Europewith the latest “outbreak” in the Czech Republic.
Besides bird flu, dengue fever caused by mosquitoes is also taking its toll on the Southeast Asian region. None of the countries have been spared. Even Singapore with its compactness in size and vigilance by the authorities has seen a spike in dengue cases and three people have died from dengue fever. A new strain has also been detected and researchers in Singapore are working frantically to nail down the causes of the current epidemic and the best way to tackle the challenge.
Meanwhile, Malaysia reported 23,681 cases of dengue this year, up from 15,388 cases in the same period last year. Situation in Cambodia is also critical and Cambodia has appealed for urgent international help to fight what it described as epidemic. The disease had killed 138 of the 12700 children diagnosed with dengue so far this year. With bird flu and dengue and other possible infectious diseases erupting with climate change and spreading through the different communications channels, the region would be served well to look into better regional monitoring and cooperation on this matter. (29 June 2007)
Vietnam Spent US$7.8 Million For Bird Flu Vaccine (Bernama, 28 June 2007)
Singapore to lift ban on poultry imports from Selangor and Perak (Channel News Asia, 28 June 2007)
Sarawak on bird flu alert (New Straits Times, 27 June 2007)
Thailand donates medical equipment to Cambodiafor bird flu control (Xinhua, 26 June 2007)
Malaysia steps up efforts against bird smuggling from Indonesia(Earthtimes, 26 Jun 2007)
Indonesian girl tests positive for bird flu (Jakarta Post, 23 June 2007)
Bird flu cases found in Germany(AP, 24 June 2007)
Bird flu heats up in Asia(Jakarta Post, 23 June 2007)
Human H5N1 vaccine, kits to be ready next month (Jakarta Post,June 23, 2007)
Indonesia promises bird flu vaccine (Reuters, 22 June 2007)
Vietnam woman dies of bird flu (AP, 21 June 2007)
Vietnam plans human trial of bird flu vaccine (AFP, 20 June 2007)
Dengue at worrying level, warns Malaysia (Straits Times, 29 June 2007)