THE threat from the bird flu virus has certainly increased for Bangladesh with the hoisting of a red alert against it in this country. An inter-ministerial meeting discussed the grave health threat only days ago when it was learnt that the poultry epidemic has broken out in some states of neighbouring India.
Understandably, Bangladesh's nearness to India prompted authorities in this country months ago to slap a ban on import of chickens and eggs from India when that country was suffering from a far lower level of the incidence of the disease. But after the breakout of bird flu in epidemic form there and its claiming human casualties, the onus for Bangladesh must be greater to absolutely shut all doors of entry of infected poultry birds and eggs from India. Newspapers have recently reported that some cargoes of chickens and eggs of Indian origin were detected inside Bangladesh and this points to ineffective activity on the part of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). The BDR in the main has to be relied on to ensure that hazardous poultries and eggs do not come across the borders. Border defenders on both sides are susceptible to bribery. Therefore, at least in this case, the BDR personnel need to be urgently and especially motivated not to show any slack in their duties or fall prey to monetary temptations in doing their work very sternly and thoroughly in stopping poultries and eggs from infiltrating the borders. If they can be properly made to understand how serious a health and economic threat it can be, then they can be expected to do their work with sincerity and enthusiasm.
Similarly, people in border areas and also all over the country need to be alerted and inspired through the mass media with publicities on a regular basis that they should help out in the search and destruction of poultries and eggs of Indian origin and to be proactive in informing law enforcement agencies about the smuggling of the same. Mass publicity should also warn people about the necessity of cooking all poultry birds and eggs at high temperature before eating them as safeguard against the disease.
Bangladesh health authorities should also make a move immediately to stockpile Tamiflu, the only medicine which can treat human cases of the disease. The government of Bangladesh should spend from its own funds and seek foreign assistance from the WHO and other sources to make a good stock of the medicine at the fastest. Only telling the local poultry farm operators to take safety measures on their own would not be enough. The relevant government departments must carry out a survey immediately to learn which poultry farms have at their disposal musks, gloves and other gears that would be necessary if the infection strikes them. The poultry sector operators who are found to be not in possession of such protective materials will have to be obliged to acquire them immediately or face closure and other penalties. They should be also strictly ordered to report any breakout of bird flu and apprised about what their workers should do such as using protective gears in handling the chickens.
The government should also explore with no loss of time the possibilities of import of vaccines in large quantities to vaccinate poultry birds . Italy has had remarkable success in vaccinating poultry birds that made unnecessary their culling. Bangladesh may exercise a similar option if it makes a headstart in this matter. The poultry sector is a big and emerging one in Bangladesh employing 3.5 million people and adding about $833 million to the country's gross domestic product. Thus, it makes a strong economic sense to head off the wiping out of poultry birds by vaccinating them.