At a glance: Viet Nam

UNICEF and partners work to keep bird flu at bay in Viet Nam

UNICEF Image: Viet Nam: Bird flu
© Reuters/Kham
A poultry seller unloads ducks at Ha Vy wholesale market, south of Hanoi.

By Steve Nettleton

HAY TAY PROVINCE, Viet Nam, 8 January 2007 – Nguyen Thi Tham lives in fear of bird flu. Ms. Nguyen is a poultry farmer in Hay Tay Province, just south of the capital, Hanoi. Her entire farm of 200 chickens was culled during an outbreak of avian influenza in 2005.

Since then she has struggled to start over, rebuilding her stock with another 200 chickens – but she worries about the future. Her fears are especially relevant in light of a new outbreak of avian influenza in southern Viet Nam, which has resulted in the deaths and forced culling of thousands of birds in recent weeks.

“We believe the threat of avian flu is grave and we are concerned about how we raise our poultry,” said Ms. Nguyen. “If our poultry is infected with avian flu it will be a huge economic loss for the family.”

Risk remains high

Viet Nam is one of the countries hardest-hit by avian influenza, led only by Indonesia in the number of human fatalities from the illness. Of 93 people who were infected by the bird flu virus here, 42 died. Millions of birds were slaughtered in order to contain the last outbreak, costing farmers tens of millions of dollars in losses.

At least 40,000 birds have been culled in the past month in response to the latest flare-up.

A rapid response by the Vietnamese Government, with backing from the international community, has helped bring the situation under control in terms of bird flu transmission to people. There have been no cases of human infection since November 2005.

Yet with the recent return of the virus, the risk of a potential human pandemic is high.

UNICEF Image: Viet Nam: Bird flu
© UNICEF Vietnam/2006/Nettleton
To prevent human transmission of bird flu in Viet Nam, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health to promote safe hygiene practices and educate communities.

An integrated response

“We haven’t seen the end yet,” said UN Resident Coordinator for Viet Nam John Hendra. “I think it is incumbent on us to not be complacent and to help the Vietnamese build their own capacity to respond in the most effective way possible.”

A $16 million joint programme between the government and UN agencies – including the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Development Programme and UNICEF – is in place.

The programme coordinates an integrated, multi-sectoral response by both government and international agencies to control bird flu. With funds provided by Japan, UNICEF is working with Viet Nam’s Ministry of Health to raise community awareness and promote better hygiene.

Ready for future outbreaks

With this support, the Vietnamese Government says it’s better prepared for outbreaks like the one that has hit poultry in the southern provinces.

“We have better knowledge and practice to control them,” said Vice Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Bui Ba Bong. “We are ready to tackle any outbreaks.”

These words are a welcome message for poultry farmers such as Ms. Nguyen, who know they will be among the first to suffer if bird flu spreads further in Viet Nam.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.


 

 

Video

6 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on the ongoing efforts to deal with bird flu outbreaks in Viet Nam.
 VIDEO high | low

6 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on UNICEF efforts to educate Vietnamese communities about avian flu prevention.
 VIDEO  high | low

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