Prevention starts before the actual outbreak happens
At the entrance to the poultry production facility, Zdravko Radošević explains that almost 50 families in the area of Vrtoče, near Bosanski Petrovac depend on this poultry production facility. Their income is based on market sales of the products of this small factory managed by the Agriculture Cooperative „Vrtoče“. Zdravko and his extended family are returnees to this area. After returning to their pre-war home, they decided to change their previous professions and to join around 50 families from the area and to establish poultry production and processing. They are selling their products to the big merchants in the Una-Sana Canton in the North-West part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over the years of dedicated work and inspired by the strong competition, this Cooperative's factory raised business standards. Now they have ISO and HACCP certificates and their brand is well-known in the market.
Busy with their everyday work, members of this community rarely have the opportunity to participate in educational seminars. The workshop organized by the Cooperatives Association, within the USAID-supported UNICEF project „Communication response to the Avian Influenza (AI) threat in Bosnia and Herzegovina“ was a perfect opportunity to learn about the silent threat they have to face of a potential AI outbreak. As they remember vividly from the recent case when the H5N1 virus was discovered in BiH in two wild birds, in case of a potential AI epidemic, poultry production would be jeopardized, endangering the only source of income for their families and children.
The workshop started with an educational film produced by Federal TV in collaboration with the Avian Influenza Communications Working group established by the Project. The content was carefuly planned to offer basic information about Avian Influenza, the potential threat of a pandemic, and to avoid irrational panic. Experts from the Public Health Institutes and State Vetarinary Office were interviewed to comment on and explain the real potential and necesary prevention measures. All participants commended this way of education. „I really enjoyed the documentary. I will show it in the school in Bosanski Petrovac, both to children and their parents. I am sure my colleagues will find it useful and informative as well.“ – said teacher Emina Ramic, one of the participants in the Vrtoce workshop.
The veterinarian from the Cooperative Association, Emir Halilovic, has long experience in running this kind of workshop. “I am trying to adjust my presentation and to address all the questions from the participants” he says. “They do not have such an opportunity so often, so I want to make sure they understand the issue and that they are ready to talk about prevention, good hygiene practices in their communities and in their families. In this particular community, knowledge about the real threat is crucial: they are very interested for more people to know how to properly cook poultry meat and eggs in case of an epidemic, so the demand in the market for their products does not decrease to only 30 percent, as it was the case two years ago, when AI was in the neighbourhood.” Emir is also concerned about the current outbreak of brucellosis. He is repeating in his workshops that this epidemic was also preventable in its silent phase, before it happened.
Similar was the community workshop in Cazin – at the beginning the participants wanted to know why the current timing for workshop on Avian Influenza was appropriate. The critical importance of increasing knowledge about this problem before the actual crisis happens was explained. “It is too late to talk about prevention and to learn about the disease in a situation when we have to focus all our efforts on problem solving” – agrees Zdravko Radosevic from the Cooperative Vrtoce.
The final part of the worskhops was an open discussion, as shown in the picture on left, where the veterinarian Emir talks with the cooperatives from Cazin about their concerns about food safety, cantonal inspections and the necessity of proper education for prevention of various infectious diseases transferred from animals.
The participants’ interest, the relevance of their questions, as well as the results of the post-workshop questionnaires confirmed that this type of direct, interpersonal communication and capacity-building activity results in an increase in understanding about Avian Influenza and its prevention, which ultimately should increase the possibility of preventing the spread of a potential epidemic in the areas at risk in Bosnia and Herzegovina.