Cambodia has been the country regionally worst affected by bird flu in humans this year—with 23 cases compared to just two in Vietnam and none in Thailand—largely due to the difference in poultry farming, an official with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Tuesday.
Twelve Cambodians have died of H5N1 so far this year, which saw the country’s worst-ever outbreak of the disease, compared to another nine deaths from the virus worldwide.
However, policies that were used to stop the disease from spreading in Vietnam and Thailand cannot be copied in Cambodia as the neighboring countries’ poultry is mostly held on commercial farms, making it easier to conduct large-scale culls, said Lotfi Allal, team leader of FAO’s emergency center for transboundary animal disease.
“With 10,000 poultry at a farm, you cull them when you have an outbreak,” Mr. Allal said of the policy in Vietnam and Thailand.
“But managing [the virus] in backyards, we are dealing with free-range poultry who run around villages and transmit it from one poultry to another,” he said, adding that 80 percent of Cambodian poultry are kept in people’s backyards.
In all 23 avian influenza cases reported this year, the victims had contact with dead or sick animals.
The Cambodian government also does not provide compensation for farmers whose poultry needs to be killed, which many experts say provides a disincentive to report sick birds.
Vietnam, however, does have a compensation program in place.
Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture’s animal health department is only able to trace the virus’ origin after cases in humans are reported, said Mr. Allal, who advises the animal health department.
Several markets across the country are being monitored for signs of the virus, he said, adding that throughout the year, the number of cases of avian influenza usually rises before Chinese New Year, Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben, when the movement of poultry increases due to trading.
“We see this every year…around 60 percent of samples are positive for H5N1,” Mr. Allal said.
Before Chinese New Year next year, Mr. Allal said, the government plans to start a pilot project in several villages in Kampot and Takeo provinces where farmers reporting sick and dead chickens will be compensated with new animals if their poultry has to be culled.
“When people report that poultry is dying, an investigation takes place, and samples are taken and if they are tested positive [for H5N1], an outbreak is declared and then we go to…cull the poultry.
“And because they report early, the idea is to replace the culled poultry by the same number” of birds, he said, adding that no villages had been chosen for the pilot project yet.