POULTRY farmers in three border provinces exhibited improved awareness of avian influenza following the introduction of a village-based education project, though in some areas more than 20 percent still say they would eat an animal found to be infected with the disease, according to survey results released this week.
The survey was conducted in three provinces – Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Koh Kong – as part of a programme led by the NGO CARE International. Overall, it found that the farmers benefited from education efforts implemented by Village Surveillance Teams, or VSTs.
In 2007, farmers were interviewed in order to assess their understanding of the A(H5N1) influenza virus, commonly known as bird flu. In particular, the initial interviews assessed the farmers’ knowledge of how the virus spreads to humans and how diseased poultry should be disposed of.
THEY’RE NOT ONLY PROTECTING THE BIRDS. THEY’RE PROTECTING THEIR OWN FAMILIES.
When they were interviewed again at the end of a three-year pilot programme in 2009, the farmers demonstrated that they were better equipped to deal with avian flu cases. In villages in Prey Veng and Svay Rieng, for example, the number of respondents who said they would kill and eat a bird if they were to find it sick was nearly halved, from 43 to 23 percent, according to the survey.
“We saw that there was a behaviour change,” said Cecilia Dy, CARE’s avian influenza project coordinator.
The VSTs that were at the heart of the education efforts consisted of village chiefs and local volunteers.
“One of the messages that the VSTs are promoting is: ‘Don’t eat, don’t cook, report’. I think their activities have contributed to increases in knowledge, awareness and practice,” Dy said.
Villagers are encouraged to report signs of avian influenza so that suspected poultry can be taken for testing to confirm the presence of the virus.
The pilot sites were chosen because of their proximity to the border with Vietnam and, in the case of Koh Kong, Thailand. Vietnam has reported 119 confirmed cases of avian influenza in humans and 59 deaths since 2005, according to the World Health Organisation.
There have been 10 reported cases resulting in eight deaths in Cambodia, said Ly Sovann, deputy director of the Ministry of Health’s Communicable Diseases Control Department.
In the most recent case, a 27-year-old man in Prey Veng’s Kampong Leav district died in April after contracting the virus.
Dy noted that Vietnam had been hit much harder by avian flu. “If you compare the situation in Cambodia to the situation in Vietnam, it’s not as serious,” Dy said. “But we still need to be careful about it.”
In areas where past outbreaks have occurred, she said, awareness is generally higher. The April case in Prey Veng, for instance, has resulted in heightened awareness there, she said.
“I think people are more aware there than they are in Koh Kong,” she said.
She said she believed the VSTs could be a successful model to underscore the importance of avian flu awareness at the community level.
“The communities need to be aware that there is a lethal disease that might infect the poultry,” she said.
“It’s not just about poultry. It can be transmitted to humans. They’re not only protecting the birds. They’re protecting their own families, especially their children.”