April 10, 2006

Myanmar fighting over 100 bird flu outbreaks: UN

By Ed Cropley

BANGKOK (Reuters) - 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, UN agriculture officials said on Monday.

After visits by two teams from the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organization (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

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

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

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 UN'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

Alongside FAO efforts to boost culling and provide vaccines
and protective gear for agricultural workers, the World Health
Organization (WHO) is to send a team to Yangon at the end of
the month to assess human defenses 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 program to help poor
countries plug gaps in their health defenses.

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