Home > Health Care, Local News > CAMBODIA: Bird flu risk "under control", say health experts

CAMBODIA: Bird flu risk "under control", say health experts

Bird flu can sometimes spread to domestic poultry
PHNOM PENH, 18 April 2011 (IRIN) – Health officials in Cambodia stress
that they have not let down their guard against H5N1, despite four
fatal cases of human avian flu this year, and are confident the community-based detection, surveillance and containment model remains robust and effective.

“There is no cause for alarm,” Chea Nora, a technical officer within
the Emerging Disease Surveillance and Response unit at the World Health
Organization (WHO) in Phnom Penh, told IRIN. “Even though Cambodia is
the only country [in the Mekong region] that has had cases this year,
H5N1 is well under control here.”

The four deaths, in February and March, were the first reported cases
of H5N1 in Cambodia since April last year and raised the number of
cases in the country to 14 since 2005, 12 of which have been fatal,
according to the communicable disease department at Cambodia’s Ministry of Health.

Nora said it was important to note that the cases occurred in different
areas of the country, that laboratory tests indicated the virus was
neither mutating nor getting stronger, and that the avian flu season,
which corresponds with the dry season in Cambodia, from November to
May, is nearing its end.

However, he said interviews with villagers had revealed that some
believed H5N1 was no longer a threat because there were no more radio
alerts, which had been part of the national awareness campaign funded
by USAID and the German government.

Ly Sovann, deputy director of the communicable disease control
department at Cambodia’s health ministry, said an appeal to mobilize
resources would be made at the next meeting of the H5N1 Technical
Working Group at the end of this month.

The group comprises officials from the health and agriculture
ministries as well as NGOs, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF),
the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Vision and
Medicam (the umbrella group of health NGOs in Cambodia).

Rapid response

the architect of Cambodia’s detection, surveillance and containment
model for communicable diseases, stressed that the rapid response to
each case of H5N1 demonstrated that his ministry had not let its guard
down. The message that H5N1 remains a threat due to the severity of the
disease and possibility that the virus might mutate is constantly
reiterated by the minister to health officials at the provincial,
district and commune levels, as well as village health volunteers, he

The Rapid Response Team (RRT) comprises 1,200
people and covers the entire country, he said. Investigations are
conducted in every village where there is a case to discover the source
of infection and trace all those who had been in contact with the
patient, he said. Two-week COMBI (communication for behavioral impact)
campaigns are also conducted using flyers, loud-speakers mounted on
motorcycles and house-to-house visits by RRT staff.

One difficulty with awareness campaigns about H5N1 is that “the disease
is more alarming to health officials than it is to people due to the
small number of cases and limited transmission of the virus”, he said.

“Ongoing, sustainable health campaigns are required,” he said, noting
that rural Cambodians were more concerned with hunger, dengue fever,
malaria, cholera, diarrhoea and road accidents because they were more
prevalent threats.

Nora agreed that rising food insecurity in rural Cambodia was a risk
factor for H5N1 because hungry families were more likely to eat sick

Funding for the country’s national H5N1 education campaign dried up at
the end of 2008 and the ministry has relied on alerts posted online,
text messages sent to staff at health centres throughout the country
and a national hotline since then.

According to the WHO, bird flu has killed 320 people in 12 countries since 2003, the vast majority in Asia.


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