The outbreak of bird flu is particularly worrisome at this period of time when the country is battling against the coronavirus

A month after avian flu, also known as bird flu, was reported in the Indian states bordering Nepal, the disease has been detected in Nepal, too. Bird flu, caused by the deadly H5N1 virus, was detected in a turkey and some ducks in a poultry farm located at Tarakeshwar Municipality in Kathmandu last week, impelling the government to raise an alarm among the stakeholders. After the dead birds in the farm tested positive for avian influenza on Saturday, the remaining turkeys and ducks were culled and buried.

The Department of Livestock Development has also destroyed thousands of fowl from various other farms in the municipality while disinfecting the affected areas. This is not the first time bird flu has been detected in the country. But it is particularly worrisome at this period of time when the country is battling against the coronavirus, which has infected 270,959 people as of Sunday, resulting in 2,029 deaths. Certain variants of the avian flu virus, such as influenza A (H5), A (H7) and A (H9) are known to cause human infection, with severe respiratory problems, which at times could be fatal.

Nepal experienced its first outbreak of bird flu in 2009 in Mechi zone among backyard poultry. There have been multiple outbreaks of bird flu thereafter every year, but the year 2013 saw the worst flare-up – a total of 201 outbreaks – in different districts of Nepal in both household poultry and commercial farms. Although the outbreaks of avian flu were concentrated on birds, Nepal, however, experienced its first human casualty in March 2019, when a 21-year-old patient succumbed to influenza like symptoms while undergoing treatment in Kathmandu.

Since the strain of the virus that killed the patient could not be identified for lack of a sophisticated laboratory in the country, his throat swab was sent to Japan, which confirmed the strain as H5N1. It, thus, behooves the people to stay on high alert against the avian flu virus that is capable of infecting both birds and humans.

In the event of a bird flu outbreak, there is no option other than to destroy the birds and eggs, causing huge financial losses to the entrepreneur. Thus, it would be prudent on the part of the stakeholders to follow the government's instructions strictly, such as performing health check-up and seeking veterinary certificates for transporting birds and poultry products.

The department has also told the farmers to disinfect the farms regularly and pay special attention to personal hygiene. Similarly, washing hands with soap after touching poultry or reducing contact with poultry and birds altogether can reduce chances of human infection by bird flu. Although bird flu has been detected for now in Kathmandu, there could be multiple outbreaks in other parts of the country in the months ahead. Hence, the provincial and local governments must stay watchful and monitor their areas strictly as the poultry business is one of the biggest industries in Nepal, with billions of rupees in investment.

Since there are high chances of smuggling sick birds through the long porous border with India, the government must enhance its vigilance to detect any unscrupulous activity that might take place.

Internet service

Despite the fact that Nepal has made tremendous progress in the telecommunication sector over the last decade, there are many remote districts which are still far from getting connected with the rest of the world. Some parts of the country, especially the remote hilly and mountainous districts, lack better connectivity as the government-owned Nepal Telecom has not been able to expand its internet service.

Now, the Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) has installed free internet service in 31 districts under the Rural Telecommunication Development Fund.

Under this scheme, offices of municipalities, rural municipalities, ward offices, community schools and community health institutions in the districts will receive free internet services for the next two years. After the expiry of two years, the service seekers will have to pay a certain amount as set by NTA. The broadband network will help the people of these districts get better connected with the rest of the world.

Public schools and health institutions will be able to enhance their teaching-learning activities as well as get remote health counseling should the need arise. The doctors in these districts should utilise the service to treat the patients.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 2, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.