IT took only one word to make a 13-year-old white manual gathering dust in a shelf into the government’s “bible” against avian influenza (AI): confirmed.
This word also managed to turn an office of at least 10 government veterinarians into a “ghost town”.
“On the Saturday after the AI outbreak in San Luis, Pampanga, was announced, people here were immediately deployed,” government-employed animal physician Joy Lagayan said.
“We used to be noisy here. Now, all of them are in the field. We are now like a ghost town,” added Lagayan, who is with the Bureau of Animal Industry’s (BAI)
Animal Health and Welfare Division office, staring at the empty cubicles in the 30-square meter office.
WHEN Lagayan’s colleagues were deployed in the town of San Luis—ground zero of the outbreak—they were armed with their bible: the “Avian Influenza Protection Program [AIPP] Manual of Procedures”.
“All of us have this. Even those in the field at the moment,” she told the BusinessMirror in an interview. “It made things a little bit easier for us. What are written here are the things we are following now.”
The contents of AIPP trace back more than a decade ago when the Philippine government was keen in protecting its borders from the intrusion of the dreaded bird-flu virus that resurfaced in Asia in 2003.
It was adopted on April 20, 2005 through the Joint Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Health (DOH) Administrative Order 1. This order also established the National Avian Influenza Task Force (NAITF), according to Arlene Asteria V. Vytiaco, the government’s focal person for AI.
“The AIPP Manual of Procedures has become one of the primary references for information on the government’s AI prevention program and preparedness plan,” Vytiaco said in the foreword of the AIPP 2016 updated version. “The courses of action mainly address HPAI [highly pathogenic Avian Influenza] incursion.”
UNDER the government’s “Preparedness and Response Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza” (PRPAPI) there are four possible stages the Philippines could encounter with bird flu: 1) an AI-free nation; 2) AI outbreak in poultry; 3) AI transmission from poultry to humans; and 4) AI transmission among humans.
“The pandemic clock is ticking. It cannot be predicted when the pandemic will occur, but it is always best to be prepared all the time,” then-Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in the preface of the document. “After all, it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
The AIPP only outlines procedures to undertake for Stage 1 and Stage 2 of a bird-flu scenario as outlined by PRPAPI.
THE imposition of import bans is one of the most important preventive measures that the Philippines implements to avert intrusion of bird-flu virus.
Under the AIPP, the Agriculture Secretary is authorized to issue a memorandum order that would temporarily ban the importation of poultry and poultry products from AI-affected countries.
These products include: live poultry, wild birds, day-old chicks, semen, eggs and other poultry products and by-products. Section 1.1.1. of the AIPP states that the DA can impose a temporary ban on these products based on the information provided by the affected countries to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) or notification from a Notifiable Avian Influenza (NAI) Affected Countries/Zones.
Upon the imposition of a ban, the Philippines stops the processing of and issuance and giving import permits to NAI-affected countries. Furthermore, products that are in-transit to the Philippines prior to the declaration by the OIE of its source country as NAI-affected shall be denied entry into Manila.
“The DA-BAI shall advise the exporting country or zone of the decision to have cargo entry discontinued and the courses of action to be taken by the Philippines,” Section 1.4.2. of the AIPP said.
“Live poultry and bird importation shall be humanely destroyed upon arrival in the Philippines and buried in a designated area. Poultry and bird
product, including hatching-egg importation, will be destroyed and disinfected prior to burying in designated area,” it added. “Processed poultry-product importation will be rendered and buried in designated area.”
The DA has been strict in imposing this measure for the past years. In fact, whether a NAI-affected country reports an outbreak in a specific region or in the entirety of it, the DA imposes automatically a blanket ban on imports from it.
UNDER the AIPP, the government shall also conduct a biannual surveillance on identified “poultry critical areas” in the Philippines. These areas are considered the most vulnerable parts of the country that could be infiltrated by the bird- flu virus.
These “critical” areas are identified based on the following: presence of waterfowl and migratory birds, hotspots for illegal trade and wildlife and live-bird markets.
“For every critical area, six barangays shall be identified for sample collection. Thirty blood samples, 30 oropharyngeal [throat] and 30 cloacal [body cavity into which the intestinal, urinary and genital canals empty in birds] swabs shall be collected from target poultry in each of the six identified barangays,” AIPPS’s Section 126.96.36.199. reads. The samples shall be submitted to either the government’s regional laboratories or to the national laboratory in the BAI.
At present there are at least 60 identified poultry critical areas across 13 regions in the country.
The government also established NAI-free poultry-production zones that would allow easier micromanaging of areas in case of an outbreak. These zones are identified based on its natural geographic boundaries, such bodies of water, mountain ranges or controllable points of entry. Under the AIPP, the country’s 17 administrative regions have been divided into 25 NAI-free zones.
The establishment of these zones aims to recognize defined territories with existing administrative jurisdictions that can prevent the entry or control the spread of NAI, according to the document. Another objective is to facilitate a more efficient surveillance and detection of the disease and to ensure availability of distinct and disease-free production areas both for export and local markets.
UNDER the AIPP, the local government units, particularly those in the identified zones, shall serve as “frontliners” in the surveillance of AI.
The surveillance shall be conducted based on a sampling frame. This “sampling frame” includes the list of all farm or poultry owners in a locality, as well as other supporting units or industries that handle poultry and poultry products, according to the AIPP.
The list shall also contain information on the poultry demographics in the area, including the names of farm owners, farm location, species of poultry, disease profile, biosecurity practices and even marketing practice.
“The BAI shall identify the areas to be sampled and the number of samples needed per area. The DA-Regional Field Offices shall be responsible for the collection of samples in the identified areas,” it added, saying the sampling shall be conducted at least twice a year.
The government has made it known that two farms in San Luis, Pampanga, have been struck by the AI subtype A-H5 virus. However, the question how it got there remains unanswered.
Government officials are ruling out the probability that it was caused by migratory birds. Some, like Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, considers smuggling
of fowls from China as the culprit.
Whatever the cause may be, the outbreak in these towns shows that despite preventive measures, the Philippines—like any other Southeast Asian region—remains vulnerable to the dreaded bird-flu virus.
To be concluded
Image credits: Nonie Reyes