Mekong Countries Will Share $1 Million to Fight Animal Diseases

MANILA, Philippines, March 7, 2005 (ENS) - Five of the countries that share the Mekong River are developing a regional cooperation framework on controlling avian influenza and other transboundary animal diseases with a US$1 million technical assistance grant from the Asian Development Bank.

Three diseases - swine fever, foot-and-mouth disease, and highly pathogenic avian influenza - that are spread by animal movement across borders will be covered by the grant.

These diseases kill animals and reduce productivity, threaten livelihoods of poor farmers, drain public sector resources, restrict trade, and overall hinder efforts to reduce poverty, bank officials said today.

Countries involved in the initiative are Cambodia, Laos, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), Thailand, and Vietnam. They will use the grant to build on existing activities in the Mekong basin that attempt to deal with these three diseases.


Chicken slaughter group at a market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Live animal markets are believed to spread avian flu. (Photo by Hans Wagner courtesy FAO)
For the first time, the bank is attempting to engage the participation of China in the regional effort for transboundary animal disease control. Bank officials say Chinese participation is essential for disease control because cross-border trade in livestock between China and the other Greater Mekong subregion countries is substantial and growing.

"The immediate task is to develop a framework for regional cooperation, upgrade national and regional laboratories, and build staff capacity in the participating countries to control transboundary animal diseases," says Akmal Siddiq, a senior project economist with the bank.

"The PRC will also be a key player in supporting training for many of the poor countries in the region and funding most of its disease control projects," Siddiq said.

Regional cooperation is expected to foster a strong partnership among all stakeholders and beneficiaries, including livestock farmers and traders, vets, extension workers, community health service providers, nongovernment organizations, veterinary departments, border control units, and private pharmaceutical companies.

"In the long term, this will enhance food security, safety, and promote greater trade in livestock and livestock products," said Siddiq. "The project represents a major shift toward control rather than the traditional approach of applying mass, blanket vaccination to control outbreaks, which has proven unsustainable and expensive."

Morbidity and mortality rates of livestock due the three diseases are often as high as 50 to 70 percent in many part of the Greater Mekong subregion, a study conducted by the bank shows.

Nearly 23 million people, or 70 percent of the poor people, in the Greater Mekong subregion are small farmers who depend on livestock for food and as a source of income.

Since it is well known that the source of infections for the three diseases is among poor smallholders, Phase 1 of the project will provide accurate mapping of diseases among these communities through epidemiological information. The bank plans economic impact studies that officials say will ensure targeting of resources to benefit resource poor farmers.


Some countries already have experience with vaccinating chickens. Here village chickens in West Java, Indonesia are vaccinated during the 2004 avian influenza crisis. (Photo by Larry Allen courtesy FAO)
Phase 2 will involve vaccination programs - in collaboration with the private sector - in preselected target disease control zones. Vaccination will be complementary to ongoing livestock projects in the region supported by various aid sources, the bank said.

The total cost of the technical assistance grant is the equivalent of US$2 million. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization will contribute $880,000 and the participating Greater Mekong subregion countries will meet local costs amounting to about $120,000.

The project will be carried out over about two years to September 2006, with the ministries of agriculture acting as the executing agencies through their departments of livestock.

Individual countries are not waiting for the technical assistance grant to act against avian influenza. In Vietnam, the avian flu has so far this year spread to 32 cities and provinces nationwide, killing and leading to the forced culling of more than one million birds. Animal health experts say many ducks, especially in the southern Mekong Delta, are infected with the bird flu virus strain of H5, but still look healthy.

The municipal authorities in Ho Chi Minh City have decided to stop the raising of ducks in the city for one year, starting from February. The city will slaughter healthy ducks, changing them into frozen foods, and cull all others.