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Avian flu worst at borders

Chickens transported from provinces sit at Orussey Market in Phnom Penh
Chickens transported from provinces sit at Orussey Market in Phnom Penh in January. Government officials said that 6,182 cases of infected birds had been tallied so far in 2014. Pha Lina

Avian flu worst at borders

Cambodia's porous borders are creating one of several headaches for health officials working to minimise outbreaks of avian influenza, officials revealed yesterday at a symposium on emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia.

The border provinces of Takeo and Kampong Cham have been witness to the highest number of H5N1 poultry outbreaks since the disease was first discovered in early 2004 in the capital’s Russey Keo district, said Chhim Vutha, a representative of the National Veterinary Research Institute.

“We are worried that there seems to be so many sick birds this year,” he told the Post.

“Public-awareness campaigns and more surveillance in local villages need to increase. Farmers need to know where to go to report when birds fall sick.”

But monitoring the illegal transport of poultry across borders is a government conundrum that was continuously characterised by government officials as “challenging” yesterday.

And while there are checks along the Cambodian-Vietnamese border to stop sick poultry from entering the country, a regular procedure for identifying and confiscating sick birds is not in place.

“There are many illegal border crossings,” Vutha said. “So far, we don’t have roving surveillance checks but officially we have legally banned movement of poultry across the border.”

Adding to the difficulty of controlling H5N1 outbreaks is that locals on this side of the border are not keen to report sick birds to provincial authorities if it means a primary meal source will be bound for an incinerator, said Ly Sovann, deputy director of the Ministry of Health’s Communicable Diseases Control Department.

“We’re seeing a gap between what the public health messages are telling villagers to do.… [They] say they understand but [they] are not following the instructions,” Sovann said yesterday.

Last year, a total of 14,897 poultry fell sick or were culled, and the first months of this year have already seen 6,182 infected birds in the Kingdom, government officials said.

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