18 February 2004


For almost a month now, the Asian region has been veiled under the fear of the avian flu. Avian flu has already wreaked havoc on domestic poultry farming in almost nine Asian countries. The disease has spread to humans in Vietnam, which has reported 21 confirmed cases, 14 of them fatal, and Thailand with eight cases, six of them fatal. Some 80 million chickens have already been annihilated since the outbreak of the dreaded bird flu H5N1 strain. A region-wide health alert has been imposed in Asia, with new infections reported nearly every day in China. While Thailand said it was confident it could wipe out the virus by the end of February, their government announced this week that the disease had appeared in a previously unaffected province and reemerged in eight others that had been declared safe. In the US, in addition to their usual flu season with the H3N2 strain involved, I think there have also been reports of avian flu in Delaware.

Here in Manila, both the World Health Organization (WHO) country Director and Department of Health Secretary were captured on video eating fried chicken on different fastfood outlets to publicize that Philippine chicken is safe and has not been tainted by bird flu. The following week, it was the Department of Agriculture Secretary’s turn to do the same publicity stunt in front of newspaper and TV reporters. These press releases were rewarded by requests from neighboring affected Asian cities to request Manila for safe chicken. Last thing I heard, Japan had just ordered 2 tons of dressed chicken from Manila.

A kilo of chicken in public markets now sells from 90-95pesos down from 130pesos last Christmas. Chicken restaurants like Max, Kenny Rogers and Popeye’s display posters on their doors saying their chicken is free from bird flu and safe to eat. Many Filipinos still eat chicken although a significant decline in patronage can also be observed.

Also last week, about a day or two before Valentines Day, an importation of 300++ lovebirds from Amsterdam were confiscated in the airport and were burned to death. The authorities said they couldn’t take any chances because the lovebirds had a stopover in Bangkok, Thailand, one of the Asian cities severely affected by bird flu. I was saddened by this radical massacre. The person in-charge of the culling said that because they cannot test which birds were probably infected, they just decided to solve the problem of possible spread by killing all the birds.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) has cautioned that killing wild birds is an inappropriate measure to control the spread of avian flu and that commercial poultry owners must ensure that domestic poultry pens and drinking water are not contaminated by migrating bird species. They suggested erecting pens to keep domesticated poultry away from wild birds and keeping domestic waterfowl separate from poultry.

What a sad time for chickens, domestic fowls, and wild birds. The fear of the avian flu has cost the lives of both the affected and unaffected.

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