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Birg flu in Myanmar

Written by: Staff

BANGKOK, Apr 10: Bird flu is spreading fast in secretive, military-ruled Myanmar, which is now battling more than 100 outbreaks in poultry since the virus was first reported a month ago, U N agriculture officials said today.

After visits by two teams from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the situation in the former Burma appeared to be ''more serious than what we imagined'', said He Changchui, the Rome-based body's Asia-Pacific representative.

''Up to now, there are over 100 outbreaks, mainly in two districts, Mandalay and Sagaing,'' He told a news conference in Bangkok.

A historic trading hub between India, China and Thailand, Mandalay lies in the centre of the country and Sagaing in the north.

Public awareness of bird flu in a nation ruled by military diktat for the past 44 years was an issue, He said, as was getting hold of accurate data from one of the most reclusive regimes in the world.

''The issue there is that awareness is rather poor. The information is not that comprehensive,'' He said.

Myanmar reported its first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu on March 13 and within a week the number of outbreaks had climbed to five. Even then, FAO experts said the authorities were struggling to cope.

David Nabarro, the U N's bird flu coordinator who is on a five-nation swing through Asia, described Myanmar as having major problems.

''We're going to be focusing on Myanmar a lot in the next few days and weeks, trying to make sure that the authorities and civil society in that country are able to cope better,'' he said.

Alongside FAO efforts to boost culling and provide vaccines and protective gear for agricultural workers, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is to send a team to Yangon at the end of the month to assess human defences against the H5N1 virus.

Myanmar has proved a thorny issue for donors due to Yangon's international isolation for its human rights record and detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, the Asian Development Bank said in March it would be eligible for funds from a 38 million dollars programme to help poor countries plug gaps in their health defences.

There have been no reported human cases in Myanmar of H5N1, which scientists fear could mutate into a form that jumps easily between people and starts a global flu pandemic.

While only 192 people are known to have been infected so far worldwide, 109 have died.

However, scientists say millions of people could be infected in a human pandemic but with a much lower mortality rate.


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