For bird flu control, break shield
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We Indians never learn from our mistakes. A few years ago, the country suffered enormous economic losses from the so-called 'plague' epidemic. There was no conclusive evidence that the organism that caused the outbreak was plague. The chaos that followed media reports displayed to the whole world the pathetic state of India's epidemic preparedness, and the deficiencies in its technical and scientific expertise. It should have taught India some lessons. But the remarkable manner in which we have stepped into the bird flu chaos — first Navapur and now Jalgaon — seems to confirm that we have still to learn from our mistakes.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributors to the current avian influenza chaos is the lack of valid information from the government. India now has a significant section of educated people, who are left without any scientific information on whether the epidemic is actually due to the H5N1 avian influenza virus, or not. There is a low pathogenic influenza virus that is endemic in poultry in this and other countries. This strain does not cause the highly fatal disease caused by H5N1. It is an enormous tragedy that Indians have been thrown into a state of panic without the government ever making available to the scientific community, information on the nature of the tests that have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 virus. This is a critical requirement for any outbreak investigation. After all, if Tamil Nadu can declare that 16,000 chicken died of causes other than infection through the H5N1 virus, why cannot the 40,000 birds of Navapur have died from infection caused by the same micro-organism?
As the western media reported the H5N1 epidemic in wild and domestic birds, the Indian government initiated measures to check if the virus had surfaced in the country. The Animal Husbandry Department had met on the surveillance measures required to ensure the early detection of the virus. It appears baffling, therefore, as to why the Maharashtra government realised there was an epidemic only after 40,000 birds had died over a month-long period. What this reflects is the poor rapport between the community and the animal husbandry officials. The department should ask itself why this happened.
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