HA NOI (VNS) — Although no avian flu infections of the new H7N9 strain have been reported in poultry or humans so far, the likelihood of outbreaks in Viet Nam is high, needing utmost vigilance in detection and prevention efforts, senior officials said yesterday.
|A flock of ducks at a local field in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang. Close co-operation between the Health Ministry and relevant agencies is imperative to help the country cope with dangerous diseases such as bird flu. — VNA/VNS Photo Duy Khuong
Addressing an online conference, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam stressed the need for close co-operation between the Ministry of Health and other agencies to tackle upcoming challenges from dangerous diseases like the H5N1 and H7N9 strains of avian flu.
"Disease prevention would need the involvement of not just the health, agriculture, industry and trade ministries but the entire political apparatus," Dam said.
He said that the health sector should step up preparations for preventing the spread and limiting the damage caused by new types of avian influenza like H7N9, despite the fact that the disease is yet to enter the country.
He asked relevant sectors and the mass media to improve communication and strengthen public awareness of disease prevention.
Tran Dac Phu, director of the health ministry's Preventive Medicine Departmentm warned: "To date, no avian influenza H7N9 case has been reported, both in humans or poultry. However, the country has been facing a very high risk due to the sudden increase in H7N9 infection cases in neighbouring provinces of China."
He said the A/H7N9 virus is likely to enter Viet Nam via smuggled poultry, since this is rife in the country's porous border areas, where a lot of cross-border trade takes place in many items including poultry and poultry products.
Cross-border tourism further complicates the situation, as people move to and from disease-stricken areas, Phu said.
According to the health ministry, two people have died of the H5N1 avian flu strain in the first two months of this year in the southern provinces of Binh Phuoc and Dong Thap, bringing the total number of infections since 2003 to 126, including 64 fatalities, in 41 provinces and cities.
The country has also recorded a total of 64 H5N1 infections in poultry since beginning of this year.
Ministry officials also called for strengthened disease supervision at border gates, hospitals and main flu surveillance sites so as to detect infections early. This is needed to localise and control outbreaks, preventing diseases from spreading wider, they said.
They reported at the meeting that five joint-ministerial teams would carry out inspections in provinces and cities where poultry is imported into the country.
Meanwhile, officials in such localities said they are taking additional steps to improve vigilance and action against the avian flu viruses.
Ly Quang Vinh, Deputy Chairman of the Lang Son People's Committee, said that the northern province, which shares a long border with China, has established 14 inspection stations working all day and night to check poultry transportation and prevent smuggling.
Vinh said that there was very high risk of the H7N9 avian flu strain entering the country through Lang Son's borders due to rampant poultry smuggling that happens through cross-border trade.
In the southern province of Dong Thap, People's Committee Vice Chairwoman Tran Thi Thai said that they were facing the challenge of inadequate awareness and knowledge of disease prevention among residents.
Many people have continued to eat the meat of sick fowls even after being informed that doing so exposes them to the risk of contracting bird flue, she said.
Takeshi Kasai, country representative of the World Health Organisation's office in Viet Nam, advised that the Health Ministry collaborates closely with the veterinary sector in disease supervision, mass communication and carrying out urgent measures for preventing the dangerous disease from entering Viet Nam.
Kasai suggested that people should diligently practice basic disease prevention measures such as washing hands with soap, ensuring food safety and hygiene by eating well cooked food and drinking boiled water. They should also not transport, trade in, slaughter or eat sick or dead poultry, he said.
Officials said at the meeting that the health sector will also carry out a supplemental campaign on measles vaccination in efforts to minimise their occurrence in some provinces and eliminate the disease in the country soon.
The campaign targets at least 95 per cent of around 200,000 children, aged 9 months to 2 years, who haven't received enough doses of the measles vaccination under the National Expanded Programme on Immunisation.
The officials reported that the measles vaccine has been provided free of charge to more than 90 per cent of 9-month-old children under the national programme since 1993.
They noted that measles was a benign disease for the most part, but had the potential of causing serious complications and even death.
An increasing number of measles cases has been reported recently in the country recently due to low vaccination rates in some provinces, especially mountainous and remote areas, and outbreaks in neighbouring countries, officials said.
Since late 2013, measles infections have been reported in 18 provinces and cities of the country, the meeting heard.
Localities with a high number of measles infections include Yen Bai, Lao Cai, Son La, HCM City and Ha Noi, officials said. — VNS