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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Markets hit hard by bird flu fears

Markets hit hard by bird flu fears

Agriculture officials say there has been no further evidence of avian influenza outbreaks

on Cambodian poultry farms, but they are concerned that farmers may not be reporting

cases because of fears of mass culls, no compensation and potential bankruptcy.

In Cambodia there are 135 registered meat and breeding-chicken farms, 67 chicken-egg

farms and 661 duck farms.

By February 21, last Saturday, 26,294 chickens and 2,726 ducks had died of avian

flu on farms and 4,898 chickens and 95 ducks had been slaughtered as part of the

containment strategy, said San Vanty, deputy director general of the Ministry of

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

He said there was no sign of the disease being passed to pigs, the mammals farmed

in closest proximity to poultry.

Throughout Southeast Asia more than 80 million chickens have been killed in a bid

to contain the deadly H5N1 bird flu. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has

called for improved regional and international collaboration to curb the outbreak

which has hit 10 Asian nations and been blamed for the deaths of 22 people.

The bird flu is causing major problems for small enterprise poultry sellers at Phnom

Penh markets.

"The selling is not so good now, because people are scared to buy chickens,"

said Ney Tieng, 42, a seller at Psar Thmey for 10 years. "Before I sold from

60 to 80 chickens a day, but now only five or six," she said. "Chickens

from the provinces have no diseases because they are fed in small family groups.

Big commercial flocks are farmed in high density and disease can spread rapidly."

Che Nayheng, 34, a chicken and duck eggs seller at Psar Thmey said: "I used

to sell 200- 250 eggs a day, but at the moment only 20 to 30 eggs a day. I am forced

to sell other kinds of food to support the family."

Nop Bunthoeun, 38, who has been farming ducks for five years at Prey Kuy village,

Samroang Tong district, Kampong Speu, said: "My ducks have not been affected

because I feed them livestock medicines.

"The egg selling has become very difficult because the people are scared about

the bird disease. I spend about 200,000 riel ($50) feeding 3,000 ducks to get 1,400

eggs a day to sell."

Dr Sean Tobin, a medical epidemiologist at the World Health Organization in Phnom

Penh, said there had been no reports from the Ministry of Health about new outbreaks

of bird flu in chicken farms. Health centers, hospitals and community level agricultural

officers have been instructed to report any suspected cases at district level, which

are passed to the Ministry of Health.

"What we have done previously with SARS and will continue to do for avian flu

is to have a more rapid phone-alert system," Tobin said.

The response has been helped by more resources, especially the $390,000 provided

by the FAO, support from the Asian Development Bank and other members of the donor

community.

Australia will contribute $50,000 to assist in fighting the spread of avian influenza

in Cambodia. The fund will be earmarked for the mobilization of field teams from

MAFF for disease outbreak prevention, investigation and control. Germany yesterday

announced a $50,000 grant to Cambodia for avian flu containment action.

"I think there is a real risk [of farmers not reporting cases for fear of mass

culls with no compensation]," Tobin said. "It is an important step both

for the reporting side, but also for the socio-economic impact on farmers".

Tobin said the donor community is currently discussing with MAFF the possibilities

of providing compensation to farmers affected.

A virulent virus hit birds at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC) on December

15, 2003. The virus showed few symptoms, but always resulted in death. At least 59

birds had died by January 19.

Samples of the dead birds were sent to various national and international laboratories,

including Agrovet, the Pasteur Institute, and Choulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

So far one grey heron kept at the Phnom Tamao zoo, about 25 km from Phnom Penh, has

tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

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