Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"US" for "Thai" search and replace on bird flu

Last week we noted Thailand's efforts to bring bird flu under control and expressed some skepticism about their claim that the country was "bird fu free." Now a strongly worded Editorial in Thailand's national paper (The Nation) has come to the same conclusion. Taking notice of a recent ban on all animal products from Thailand by the Central Asian State of Kyrgyszstan, the paper also doubts the virus has been banished:
Dr Robert Webster, a bird-flu expert from the United States who has visited Thailand, rightly points out that in the government’s haste to declare the country bird-flu free, it has completely overlooked the fact that H5N1 is now endemic to the region and not only is likely to return to domestic poultry stocks but could also transform Thailand into ground zero for an influenza pandemic.
Both the Thai government and WHO have praised the system of village volunteers they say has brought the poultry epidemic under control by acting as the local "eyes and ears" of the Health Ministry (see earlier post, linked above). The paper portrays a different picture:
So far the government’s main response has been to add to the workload of the country’s 800,000 overburdened village health volunteers, who are supposed to monitor sick poultry and humans as part of a widely touted H5N1 early-detection system.

But the volunteers tell a different story. Many of them have been terrified from the start. Chief among their fears is that they have not been given the proper training to deal with an outbreak. Reports are either not completed or fabricated, and many volunteers are unwilling to make any sort of sacrifice without proper information and protection.
They also chastise the Thai government for implying a Thai effort to produce a vaccine will be timely or even successful.
What is unfortunate is that the announcement has done little more than add to the false perception among the public that Thailand will be ready when the pandemic strikes.

While we all hope and pray that whatever traces of the H5N1 virus are floating around the region will quietly go away, experts are telling us otherwise. So the question is: when will the government heed the warnings and stop pretending that everything is under control when nature continuously proves otherwise?
If I were to post (yet another) piece about the woefully inadequate response of our own government and the CDC, I could just do a "global search and replace" in this one, substituting "US government" for "Thai government."