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Avian Flu Prevention in Afghanistan

January 16, 2007 -- Poultry rearing plays a large role in the lives of many Afghans, which leaves the country extremely vulnerable to an outbreak of avian flu.

Almost all rural poor raise chickens in their backyards to supplement their meager diet. Selling chickens is a major source of income.

  • 85% of the rural population is involved in agricultural crop and livestock production
  • A rural family rears on average 4 chickens
  • There more than 12 million chickens in Afghanistan
  • 98% of the chickens are reared in backyards, feeding on scraps with little or no provision of feed and medication.
  • 98% of the country’s poultry is owned and managed by women, as raising poultry is one of the few economic activities they carry out
  • Raising poultry is critical for the livelihoods of numerous widows who are among the poorest and most discriminated against segments of society

Data from National Avian Influenza Pandemic Preparedness and Response Plan, National Avian Influenza Preparedness and Response Committee, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Any outbreak of the disease that invariably entails the death or slaughter of birds can devastate rural Afghanistan, jeopardizing the sustenance and survival of many of its people.

Afghanistan is at special risk from bird flu

The first case of bird flu was detected in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, and other provinces were infected in close succession.

By May 2006, the FAO had reported some 26 confirmed cases of H5N1 virus in chickens sampled in 4 provinces ( Kabul, Logar, Nangarhar and Kapisa).

Afghanistan is at further risk of the disease from its surging imports of chicken from neighboring countries. Three of its neighbors and main trading partners - Pakistan, Iran and China – have confirmed the presence of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu in their countries. Pakistan has also reported other highly virulent strains of the disease.

Major migratory bird flyways

Afghanistan lies along three major migratory bird flyways: the Central Asian flyway, the Black Sea-Mediterranean flyway, and the East Africa-West Asia flyway. Countries along these flyways have been infected with the bird flu virus increasing Afghanistan’s vulnerability to the disease.

No adequate measure available

Afghanistan’s veterinary and health care systems don’t have adequate capacity to detect, control, contain and mitigate communicable diseases. Most government clinics – the main health service providers – don’t have enough vaccines and medicines.

There is also no organized disease-information system.

Also, poor living conditions following years of conflict and half a decade of drought have left the country with some of the poorest health indicators in the world and its people highly susceptible to communicable diseases. Under these circumstances, a human pandemic of avian flu could be devastating.

World Bank Assistance

The World Bank’s has approved US$8 million Avian and Human Influenza Control and Preparedness Emergency Project for Afghanistan. The project aims to minimize the threat posed to humans by Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and to prepare for, control, and respond to the spread of other infectious diseases.

The project will finance three components: US$5.2 million for an effective system for bird health, US$4.3 million for a national program to prevent, recognize, respond to, and mitigate influenza in humans, and US$2.6 million for management, communication and raising public awareness.

Particular attention has been paid to ensure that the project is compatible with efforts already underway to rebuild the country’s public health care systems after years of political instability. The human health component project will not only address the country’s influenza-related needs but also contribute to developing overall capacity in disease surveillance and control.

The project draws on lessons of experience from a large number of emergency and rehabilitation projects in Afghanistan, from World Bank experience with HIV/AIDS control projects, and from the Avian Influenza Emergency Recovery Projects in several countries.

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