Officials Mum About Possible Bird Flu Death

Health and agriculture ministry of­ficials said Wednesday that they would not accept that a 24-year-old Cambodian woman died of avian influenza in Vietnam until the World Health Organization has confirmed the report. Tit Sakhan, who died of the disease this week, would be the country’s first reported fatality from the virus that has claimed dozens in neighboring Vietnam and Thai­land in the past year.

“So far we are waiting [for] con­firmation from the WHO. We just learned that it is H5 but not N1 so far,” Minster of Health Nuth Sokhon said by telephone from Kampot province.

Megge Miller, WHO technical adviser on bird flu, said that blood samples taken from Tit Sakhan in Vietnam, where she died on Sun­day, will be flown by the WHO to either Japan or Hong Kong for final confirmation.

“We are in the process of planning educational materials to teach village chiefs, commune councils [about bird flu]. But we need support from the WHO,” Nuth Sokhon added.

When asked why Tit Sakhan had to go to Vietnam for medical treatment, Nuth Sokhon said that Kam­pot’s health centers were prepared to deal with bird flu, but the de­cision to seek treatment in Viet­nam was made by relatives.

Tit Sakhan’s 14-year-old brother also died in Kampot on Jan 21 from bird flu-like symptoms.

Animal health officials said Wednesday that the $1 million do­nated to Cambodia to help de­tect bird flu outbreaks last year ap­pears to have failed in Tit Sak­han’s case, while health officials said they are short of fund­ing to combat a potential hu­man epidemic.

Megge Miller confirmed that the WHO will soon request donations for an investigation into the case, and added that fund­ing in general for bird flu initiatives had a “very limited budget.”

Chau Khim, an adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture, said Wednesday that $900,000 of funds donated to Cambodia for bird flu have been spent in the last year while an additional $100,000 will be spent on building a new laboratory building in Phnom Penh.

“We are conducting a serious examination to make a better strat­egy to control the situation,” he said.

Six thousand private veterinarians have been trained to report bird flu symptoms in birds and 100 meetings have been conducted for training, said Suon So­thoeun, deputy director of the Min­­istry of Agriculture’s De­part­ment of Animal Health and Pro­duc­tion.

“We have done all our efforts… but we could not work 100 percent …. The case happened in a remote area,” said Suon So­thoeun, commenting on the deaths of chickens in Kampot province that only came to light with the death of Tit Sakhan in Vietnam.

The UN Food and Agriculture Or­ganization’s bird flu expert, Yves Froelich, said Wednesday that he could not comment on the bird flu situation because his em­ployment contract had not yet been renewed.

The FAO’s representative in Cambodia, Tsukasa Kimoto, was too busy to comment, his secretary said on Wednesday, because he was attending a party for new administrators.

On Sunday, the FAO issued a statement decrying the level of preparedness in Southeast Asia for a bird flu outbreak and called for more funding to fight the disease.

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