Myanmar Reacts Fast to Bird Flu Attack

Updated On: Mar 17, 2006

Myanmar has reacted fast this time.

Myanmar called for international help to tackle bird flu after the country confirmed its first case of the deadly H5N1 virus in poultry. When 112 birds dies mysteriously in a farm near the central town of Mandalay, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was informed.  "We are still trying to control it. We need help not only with the technical procedures, but also with equipment," said the nation's top veterinary official Than Hla.

International agencies are now rushing protection suits and testing kits to Myanmar and FAO has agreed to send $40,000 (23,000 pounds) worth of equipment.

This rapid call for international help is a break from its secretive past. But official media remains tight-lipped about the outbreak. Although Myanmar's state-run media still kept quiet about the outbreak, residents and hospital officials in Mandalay said they were well aware of it. "The chicken sellers were not allowed to go inside the market this morning. The authorities told them at the entrance to the market that they cannot enter," one resident said, adding he heard the news from people at the market. "Even the egg vendors are not allowed to go inside."

The speed of reaction has been fast and it may be the reason for bringing the situation under control. After news of the outbreak, the hospital quickly set up a special quarantine room in preparation for any bird flu patients. The fast reaction is coupled with the meticulous nature of how the regime met international advisory in coping with the disease. Preliminarily, "the cause of the disease may be due to migratory birds that fly across the country or illegal importation of hatching eggs and day-old chicks," the report said.

Senior FAO official Laurence Glesson said the junta, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, was following international guidelines in tackling bird flu and trying to prevent the movement of any chickens. "They have also undertaken some intensive searching for any other signs of bird flu," he said in Bangkok, adding the government had already slaughtered 780 birds and quarantined at least four farms. "Given the level of their resources, they have handled according to proper procedures... They are following what we regard as proper practices here," Glesson said.

These are highly progressive moves compared to Indonesia which has practiced selective culling and is facing huge resistance from various groups in stopping the epidemic by non-discriminative culling. Patrick Deboyser, an expert on bird flu at the European Union mission in Bangkok, said that despite Myanmar's lack of financial resources, the country's veterinary service was relatively capable. "The veterinary service is one of the few satisfactory services in Myanmar. It is a pleasant surprise considering the rest of the administration," Deboyser said.

These latest developments have been surprising coming from a country that have snubbed ASEAN’s Malaysian envoy who had been one of the earliest critic of the regime and have of recent times focused their attention more on the bigger powers of China and India at what some said increasing cost of ASEAN. It is nevertheless a highly welcomed move, given that the virus is fast spreading to Africa and Europe, and also showing up in other mammals such as cats and the weasel.


Myanmar calls for international help after first bird flu outbreak (March 14, CNA)

Bird flu gear rushed to Myanmar after first outbreak (Reuters, March 14)