Bird Flu Causes Alarm

The government calls for a halt to chicken imports, and local traders say sales are sharply down.

Bird Flu Causes Alarm

The government calls for a halt to chicken imports, and local traders say sales are sharply down.

Wednesday, 7 April, 2004

In the wake of the bird flu epidemic that swept through much of Asia, including Pakistan, in recent months, the central government has advised provincial authorities to stop importing chickens. The warning, along with growing concern about the spread of the disease, has severely affected poultry dealers.

Hamidullah, who sells chickens in Mazar-e-Sharif, said "business has fallen considerably, as people are expressing concern that chicken flu may have spread here. But we haven't been officially told yet to stop selling chickens."

The drop in sales has been so severe that some dealers have given up the business. "Selling chickens was a good source of income for me," said Mohammad Ismael. "But now I'm selling fruit," he said.

Though there have been no reported cases of bird flu in Afghanistan, some shoppers aren't taking any chances. "I haven't eaten chicken since I heard about the outbreak of the flu in Asia," said Farishta, a Mazar resident. "Many of the chickens we eat here have been imported from abroad. Who can guarantee that these chickens are free of the disease?" she said.

According to the World Health Organization, WHO, avian flu is an infectious disease in birds caused by a strain of the influenza virus. All birds are thought to be susceptible, especially domestic poultry such as chickens.

The infection triggers a wide range of symptoms in birds, ranging from mild illness to a highly contagious and rapidly fatal disease, resulting in severe epidemics.

Bird flu does not normally infect species other than birds and pigs. But according to WHO, people first came down with bird flu in Hong Kong in 1997, when a specific strain infected 18 people, six of whom died. Late last year, a recurrence of the flu reportedly claimed several lives in China and Vietnam.

Companies that import chickens to Afghanistan are looking to the government for relief.

"We had already imported chickens here from Brazil,' said Abdul Qadir, a representative for Noor Qadiri, an import-export company. "By the time they arrived here in Afghanistan, there was still no news about chicken flu," he said.

"Now that we are taking these fowl to the districts and villages, the commanders are trying to stop us selling them," Qadir said. "We respectfully request the central government to cooperate with us traders. When we import things, we also pay import taxes to the government. In return they must cooperate when we have difficulties," he said.

Qadir also noted that the birds his company imported had undergone health checks.

Under the Taleban, the eating of chickens imported from non-Muslim nations was considered unlawful. But since the collapse of the Taleban in the fall of 2001, such import businesses have grown rapidly.

Dr. Mirwais Rabi, head of the Ministry of Public Health in Mazar, said his agency has asked local farmers to monitor their stock closely for symptoms of flu and report any signs of it.

Parwin Faiz is an independent journalist working with IWPR in Mazar-e-Sharif.

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