Incentives, institutional boundaries and life bird traders

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.

2 Responses

  1. CUT THE CHAIN OF INFECTIONS !

    Spread of avian flu by drinking water:

    Proved awareness to ecology and transmission is necessary to understand the spread of avian flu. For this it is insufficient exclusive to test samples from wild birds, poultry and humans for avian flu viruses. Samples from the known abiotic vehicles as water also have to be analysed. Proving viruses in water is difficult because of dilution. If you find no viruses you can not be sure that there are not any. On the other hand in water viruses remain viable for a long time. Water has to be tested for influenza viruses by cell culture and in particular by the more sensitive molecular biology method PCR.

    Transmission of avian flu by direct contact to infected poultry is an unproved assumption from the WHO. There is no evidence that influenza primarily is transmitted by saliva droplets: “Transmission of influenza A in human beings” http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473309907700294/abstract?iseop=true.

    There are clear links between the cold, rainy seasons as well as floods and the spread of influenza. There are clear links between avian flu and water, e.g. in Egypt to the Nile delta or in Indonesia to residential districts of less prosperous humans with backyard flocks of birds and without a central water supply as in Vietnam: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol12no12/06-0829.htm. See also the WHO web side: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/emerging/h5n1background.pdf. That is just why abiotic vehicles as water have to be analysed. The direct biotic transmission from birds, poultry or humans to humans can not depend on the cold, rainy seasons or floods. Water is a very efficient abiotic vehicle for the spread of viruses – in particular of fecal as well as by mouth, nose and eyes excreted viruses. Infected humans, mammals, birds and poultry can contaminate drinking water everywhere. All humans have very intensive contact to drinking water. Spread of avian flu by drinking water can explain small clusters in households too.

    Avian flu infections may increase in consequence to increase of virus circulation. Human to human and contact transmission of influenza occur – but are overvalued immense. In the course of influenza epidemics in Germany, recognized clusters are rare, accounting for just 9 percent of cases e.g. in the 2005 season. In temperate climates the lethal H5N1 virus will be transferred to humans via cold drinking water, as with the birds in February and March 2006, strong seasonal at the time when (drinking) water has its temperature minimum.

    The performance to eliminate viruses from the drinking water processing plants regularly does not meet the requirements of the WHO and the USA/USEPA. Conventional disinfection procedures are poor, because microorganisms in the water are not in suspension, but embedded in particles. Even ground water used for drinking water is not free from viruses.

    In temperate regions influenza epidemics recur with marked seasonality around the end of winter, in the northern as well as in the southern hemisphere. Although seasonality is one of the most familiar features of influenza, it is also one of the least understood. Indoor crowding during cold weather, seasonal fluctuations in host immune responses, and environmental factors, including relative humidity, temperature, and UV radiation have all been suggested to account for this phenomenon, but none of these hypotheses has been tested directly. Influenza causes significant morbidity in tropical regions; however, in contrast to the situation in temperate zones, influenza in the tropics is not strongly associated with a certain season.

    In the tropics, flood-related influenza is typical after extreme weather. The virulence of influenza viruses depends on temperature and time. Especially in cases of local water supplies with “young” and fresh influenza-contaminated water from low local wells, cisterns, tanks, rain barrels, ponds, rivers or rice paddies, this pathway can explain H5N1 infections. At 24°C, for example, in the tropics the virulence of influenza viruses in water exists for 2 days. In temperate climates with “older” water from central water supplies, the temperature of the water is decisive for the virulence of viruses. At 7°C the virulence of influenza viruses in water extends to 14 days.

    Ducks and rice (paddies = flooded by water) are major factors in outbreaks of avian flu, claims a UN agency: Ducks and rice fields may be a critical factor in spreading H5N1. Ducks, rice (fields, paddies = flooded by water; farmers at work drink the water from rice paddies) and people – not chickens – have emerged as the most significant factors in the spread of avian influenza in Thailand and Vietnam, according to a study carried out by a group of experts from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and associated research centres. See http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=26096&Cr=&Cr1

    The study “Mapping H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza risk in Southeast Asia: ducks, rice and people” also concludes that these factors are probably behind persistent outbreaks in other countries such as Cambodia and Laos. This study examined a series of waves of H5N1, a highly pathogenic avian influenza, in Thailand and Vietnam between early 2004 and late 2005. Through the use of satellite mapping, researchers looked at several different factors, including the numbers of ducks, geese and chickens, human population size, rice cultivation and geography, and found a strong link between duck grazing patterns and rice cropping intensity.

    In Thailand, for example, the proportion of young ducks in flocks was found to peak in September-October; these rapidly growing young ducks can therefore benefit from the peak of the rice harvest in November-December, at the beginning of the cold: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos – as opposed to Indonesia – are located in the northern hemisphere.

    These peaks in the congregation of ducks indicate periods in which there is an increase in the chances for virus release and exposure, and rice paddies often become a temporary habitat for wild bird species. In addition, with virus persistence becoming increasingly confined to areas with intensive rice-duck agriculture in eastern and south-eastern Asia, the evolution of the H5N1 virus may become easier to predict.

    Dipl.-Ing. Wilfried Soddemann – Epidemiologist – Free Science Journalist soddemann-aachen@t-online.de http://www.dugi-ev.de/information.html

  2. […] as we have seen when mapping out the response to bird flu outbreaks, just putting this map together can help those involve discover crucial oversights and structural […]

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