I’m sitting here comparing the Net-Maps we have drawn to understand the risks and interventions around avian flu in different African countries and that gets me thinking about incentives and institutional boundaries (more info about the project). Both Ghana and Ethiopia impressed me in their considerably fast reaction to the threat. Avian flu, with its risk of bird to human transmission seems to be scary enough for international and national agencies alike to do their best.
The leading actors in country that diseminate information and react to outbreaks are generally located within the Ministries of Agriculture. Which makes sense, as they are the ones concerned with farmers and that’s where the outbreaks and the spread of the disease always happen… Now, do they?
Well, in Africa, due to logistical challenges (no cooling), most chickens basically stay alive and intact (and able to spread the disease) till they reach the end consumer. That makes everyone involved in the trade of life birds a potential threat to animal (and human) health. But while farmers get compensated for birds that are culled (incentive to report outbreak), receive information from their agricultural extensionists and are the main focus of the attention, somehow traders easily seem to fall through the grid. They are not the main focus of the Ministries of Agriculture (though some do have veterinarians inspecting life bird markets) and if they don’t qualify for compensation schemes they have a strong incentive to rather sell off sick birds (further spreading the disease) than to report cases. And because they are mobile, they are crucial in spreading the disease in different regions and across borders.
In Ghana I asked whether corruption could slow down the reporting of and reaction to an outbreak. While none of our participants could imagine that from the farmer’s side (as they only get compensated for culled birds and not for those that have died from the disease, they have an incentive to report as soon as possible), they said that especially in cross boundary trade corruption (bribing of border officials to not “see” that the birds are sick) is very likely.
Now the question is: Is this a case where we can think of a water-tight control mechanism that makes sure that trader related cases don’t go un-noticed? Or is it possible to institute an incentive system (and involve those government agencies concerned with trade) to make traders want to report? What would these solutions look like in practice?
By the way, our colleagues in Nigeria report that the traders were aware of some outbreaks before the Ministries even knew about them. So integrating them more closely in the whole system might not only help to reduce the risk that they spread the disease but might also make early warning systems more efficient.