International health officials emphasized July 5 the disastrous social and economic impact that a pandemic of human influenza due to a mutation in the H5N1 virus would have on Cambodia.
Bird flu has claimed 191 human lives worldwide—seven in Cambodia—since it first appeared in 2003. But were the virus to mutate and become passable between humans, the death toll could reach millions, World Health Organization officials said during a disaster management conference in Phnom Penh.
In the case of a virus mutation, travel would likely be restricted and borders between countries may have to be closed, WHO technical officer Rodger Doran said July 5.
Because Cambodia imports all of its fuel, border closures would interrupt supplies. Communication would be inconsistent, and the electric grid and water supply would slowly collapse due to lack of fuel and maintenance, Doran said. Prices for commodities would skyrocket as black markets emerged, he said at the two-day conference that ended July 5.
In the aftermath, the country would still be ailing and a lengthy economic recovery period would follow.
Doran said it would take around three months for all of Cambodia to be exposed, and an estimated 30 percent of the population would contract the virus. This means that more than 4 million people would potentially be infected in a country where government hospitals provide a total of 8,000 beds and 2,000 doctors.
Ly Thuch, second vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said his organization is “quite well prepared” for a human pandemic of avian influenza, although some details still need to be ironed out and the country needs $11 million to implement its action plan.
“We cannot avoid disaster, but we can do our best to minimize its impact,” he said.
Ross Savann, director general of the NCDM’s emergency coordination center, said the recent experience responding to the airplane crash in Kampot province had helped the center identify areas in need of improvement.