Philippines Monitors Wetlands for Bird Flu Entry
MANILA The Philippines has stepped up surveillance of 55 wetlands across the country to try to prevent the entry of the deadly avian influenza virus through migratory birds, officials said on Thursday.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has infected 121 people in four Asian countries and killed 62, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has warned that a global pandemic could cause economic losses costing billions of dollars.
"We see the threats coming from two things -- migratory birds and smuggling of game fowl, live poultry or exotic birds coming from avian influenza-affected countries," said Ruben Pascual, coordinator of the Philippines' National Avian Influenza Task Force.
Pascual, who represents the commercial poultry industry in the task force, said it was stressing the need to raise public awareness of the dangers of bird flu and to secure areas where there are thousands of migratory birds.
"We have identified 20 critical sites but we are expanding the surveillance to another 35 areas," he told Reuters after the task force briefed Philippine business and civil society leaders on the potential impact of bird flu.
Pascual appealed to them to report smuggling of wild birds through the country's long and loosely patrolled maritime borders in the south -- the route for 500 parrots from Indonesia that were discovered and destroyed in April.
Poultry industry officials said the Philippines would need to raise $20-$30 million to prepare for the possible entry of the bird flu virus should a pandemic break out.
"We have initially asked for 175 million pesos ($3.2 million) but we may need more to raise awareness through an education and information campaign and train more health teams to deal with it," Pascual said.
MONEY FOR EQUIPMENT
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said on Wednesday it was "only a matter of time" before bird flu reached the Philippines.
To prepare, the health department has upgraded 21 hospitals with isolation rooms, anti-flu drugs and protective gear.
Luningning Villa, a department spokeswoman, said on Thursday it had requested an extra 30 million pesos from an agency running state lotteries to buy equipment, including masks and gloves, for health personnel.
She said the government had more than 300 million pesos in its bird flu response budget but no money had been allocated to compensate farms hit by the deadly virus.
Pascual said the government might need to pay 350 million pesos to indemnify farmers in one town alone in Pampanga province, a key poultry region, if the area were affected by bird flu.
The Philippines has a 160-billion-peso per year poultry industry, including ducks and game fowl. Only 20-30 percent were considered backyard farms, said Davinio Catbagan, head of the bureau of animal industry.
Catbagan said the government would focus on the southern island of Mindanao due to its promixity to Indonesia, where several cases, including deaths, have been reported.
"Our target is to keep the Philippines free from bird flu," said Villa. "So let's plan ahead. After all, it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark."