PHL may regain bird flu-free status soon

Manila will formally ask the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to declare the Philippines as bird flu-free next week, almost a year after Central Luzon was struck by avian influenza (AI), according to the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI).

BAI-Animal Health Welfare Division Chief Arlene Vytiaco told the BusinessMirror that the agency is now preparing the necessary documents for the government’s application to the OIE.

“There are a lot of documents needed so [we are targeting to submit the application] about mid-June, hopefully by the second week of June,” Vytiaco said via SMS. “We will try our best [to submit next week]. We are quite busy as we have a lot of activities.”

The BAI official said the government could now declare that the Philippines is no longer afflicted with the AI, but the country’s trade partners may not recognize it sans the formal notification to the OIE.

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“We could make a local declaration but it would not be recognized by the international market,” Vytiaco said.

She also said the BAI is continuously monitoring the provinces of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija to ensure that bird flu has been totally eradicated. “In case there will be positive reactors, we won’t push through with our application.”

Vytiaco said the BAI is expected to complete the third round of surveillance by the end of next week.

The BAI decided to extend its monitoring and surveillance activities in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga due to the influx of migratory birds and to check for any “spillover” bird-flu cases. The two provinces were the “hot zones” for the pathogen, which experts said led to the compulsory culling of hundreds of thousands of layers and quails.

The extended monitoring and surveillance is beyond what is written in what veterinarians treat as “the Bible” in addressing the virus: the Avian Influenza Protection Program: Manual of Procedures.

“We are extending the observation period until the end of June, since we have to continue monitoring for any spillover cases and due to the influx of migratory birds,” Vytiaco said in an interview in April.

The BAI has already awarded an AI-clearance certificate to a hot zone in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, on March 15.

Once the OIE publishes a notification that the Philippines is bird flu-free, local producers may resume the export of poultry products.

“Local poultry products are still barred in other countries. Our trading partners are still awaiting our report to the OIE,” BAI National Veterinary Quarantine Services Division chief Florence D. Silvano told the BusinessMirror in April.

Once the Philippines is declared as bird flu-free, Silvano said the Department of Agriculture, through the BAI, could request its trade partners to lift the import ban imposed on local poultry.

Philippine poultry products are banned in a number of countries, including South Korea, Japan, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, after Manila announced the discovery of bird flu in Central Luzon in August 2017.

Under the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the OIE, the international body’s Disease Status Department would review a country’s self-declaration report on freedom from a disease within two weeks after receiving the report.

If the country’s report is deemed complete and no further comments are needed, then the OIE deputy director general would review it prior to publication. The report would be published in three official languages in the OIE web site.

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