Lao officials have been ordered to be on the lookout for new bird flu outbreaks throughout the country, according to Mr. Bounkhouang Khambounheuang, Director of the Livestocks and Fishing Department of the Ministry of Forest and Agriculture, who confirmed that his ministry has issued orders to all involved parties to take necessary measures to closely and thoroughly monitor the bird flu epidemic across the country, especially in Sayaboury province where the deadly H5N1 strain has been detected in seven villages of Sayabouly District, resulting in the culling of several thousand poultry. The same measures have been enforced in Oudomxay and Luang Namtha provinces, which are considered high risk areas where bird flu outbreaks could reoccur. Both provinces suffered bird flu epidemics earlier this year.
Moreover, as a nation linked to other countries such as Thailand, China, and Vietnam where the bird flu epidemic has been an issue of concern, Laos is also closely monitoring this disease along its borders, especially at check-points in high risk provinces, mainly Savannkhet, Champassack, and Vientiane Prefecture. This preventive measure was taken after reports of fresh bird flu outbreaks in Soukhothai and Outhai Thany provinces in northern Thailand, which prompted Thai officials to declare nine other northern provinces as areas that need to be closely monitored. Lao officials believe that smuggling of poultry from neighboring countries, especially Thailand, is the main cause of the bird flu outbreaks in Laos. The problem is furthermore aggravated, as claimed by a high ranking Lao official, by the lack of cooperation from local people in disclosing the number of their poultry, which makes it difficult to prevent and monitor this deadly disease.
Laos first faced the bird flu epidemic in 2004, which lasted until early 2005. Vientiane Prefecture was the area most gravely affected, followed by Champassack, Savannakhet and Khammouane provinces. Oudomxay, Luang Namtha and Sayaboury were the northern provinces where the Avian flu was also detected in 2004 and where it is now recurring.
Lao officials have so far destroyed poultry and poultry products worth several trillion kips. However, due to severe budget constraints, the government can only compensate poultry owners up to 60% of their losses. As a result, throughout the four-year period, the Lao government has to rely mainly on the assistance of foreign countries in funding projects aimed at intervening and preventing the spread of bird flu. So far, Laos has received assistance from different external sources, including the United Nations and the United State, worth as much as US$20 million.
Listen to Songrit’s report for more details in Lao.