$18.2m WB grant to fight avian flu

Kathmandu, January 23:

The World Bank has approved $18.2 million grant to support Nepal’s efforts to minimise the the threat posed to humans by the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) infection.

The Avian Influenza Control Project is designed to control such infections among birds, especially domestic poultry, and to prepare for control and respond to possible human infections, especially an influenza epidemic and related emergencies, states a press release issued today. The project will support three types of interventions — prevention, preparedness and planning, and response and containment.

“This project is aimed at reducing the burden of disease, the consequent economic losses, the risk of human infection, and the loss of productivity attributable to human infections in Nepal,” said Ken Ohashi, World Bank country director for Nepal.

“The government has done a very responsible job in preparing Nepal for one possible disaster.

I wish government would act with a similar foresight and a sense of urgency on two other important threats, HIV/AIDS and earthquake,” he stated.

The project will support information and communication activities to raise awareness and understanding among the general population about the risk and potential impact of a pandemic, methods of self-protection, and sources of treatment. Communication efforts will also target poultry farmers on ways of recognising the symptoms of avian influenza, safe methods of disposing of infected birds, and steps to protect themselves and their families.

The project also contains measures to compensate farmers who may lose poultry if mandatory culling of birds should prove necessary, which has happened in other countries affected by this problem.

“While Nepal has not had any cases of avian influenza in either animals or humans, the country is at high risk and needs to be vigilant,” said Daniel Sellen, World Bank senior agriculture economist and the project’s co-team leader. “The disease has been recorded in China to the north and in India to the south, and Nepal is on two routes for migratory birds, which are known carriers of the disease.”

The project will also build Nepal’s capacity to diagnose and monitor the infection among birds and humans, and take the necessary steps to deal with outbreaks, if and when they occur.

“Though human cases of HPAI have not been great many, when the disease does affect a human being, it is fatal and treatment is expensive,” said Sundararajan Gopalan, World Bank’s senior health specialist, and the project’s co-team leader.

He further said, “Human infection in other countries has so far occurred through contact with infected birds, but we cannot rule out the eventual possibility of a mutation of the virus, making it transmissible between human beings. In such a scenario, the disease could spread rapidly, causing a pandemic and Nepal is likely to be affected. This could happen even without a single case of bird flu within Nepal.”