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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Avian Influenza Preparations Continue

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RR RUEHBI RUEHCI
DE RUEHLM #1055/01 3291127
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 241127Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8950
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3498
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 1150
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 8148
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 6363
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2413
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 8796
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6190
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 2408
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3038
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0856
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 001055

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KFLU TBIO KSTH ECON PREL SOCI EAGR CASC WHO CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: AVIAN INFLUENZA PREPARATIONS CONTINUE

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Sri Lankan health officials continue
preparations to prevent an Avian Influenza (AI) outbreak in country.
Repeated incidence of the disease in the region places Sri Lanka at
risk of AI. Animal health authorities maintain monitoring
activities while the Ministry of Health has increased human
influenza surveillance in selected hospitals. Several donors,
including the USG, are funding training and equipment supply
programs to assist animal and human health officials to both prevent
and prepare for a possible AI outbreak. While to date there have
been no detections of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus,
low path avian influenza is present in wild birds and some poultry.
Health officials remain concerned about transmission to Sri Lanka's
north, where surveillance is difficult due to the ongoing conflict,
via infected migratory birds from South India. Although Sri Lanka
is on high alert, its ability to deal with a large scale outbreak
could be hindered by a lack of resources. End Summary.

Country Risk Assessment
--------------------------

2. (SBU) Although Sri Lanka is an island nation, the World Health
Organization (WHO), a key member of the government's task force on
AI, and others consider highly pathogenic AI (HPAI) a serious threat
to Sri Lanka. The large poultry industry, the prevalence of
backyard poultry farming, the presence of a significant number of
migratory birds, and the recent avian influenza outbreaks in India
are key risk factors. No highly pathogenic H5N1 virus has been
detected in animals or humans in Sri Lanka; however, low path AI is
common among wild birds and some commercial poultry.

3. (U) Dr. Hendrikus Raaijmakers, WHO Emergency Health Management
Specialist, informed post that there is the possibility of an
outbreak of HPAI during the current migratory season given its
occurrence in the region. To date, Sri Lanka remains in the first
phase of the global pandemic: no new influenza virus sub-types have
been detected in humans. Even if the virus is present in animals,
the risk of human infection is considered to be low.

Government Initiatives in AI Prevention
----------------------------------------

4. (U) Sri Lanka established a National Preparedness Plan (NPP) to
deal with the threat of AI in 2006. According to Dr. Raaijmakers,
total funding required under this plan is around USD 16 million.
The NPP is designed to enable the Ministry of Health of Sri Lanka to
prepare for its necessary response in the event of an influenza
pandemic. The plan describes the strategies and activities to be
undertaken by the Ministry of Health, in close collaboration with
the Ministry of Livestock, other key ministries, and related
stakeholders in preparation for and in response to an outbreak of
HPAI. The NPP includes detailed planning and coordination,
surveillance, prevention and control, health system response and
risk communication strategies. An inter-agency joint technical
committee, comprising of representatives of the Ministry of Health
and the Ministry of Livestock Development's Department of Animal
Health, was formed and is responsible for implementing necessary
measures to prevent an occurrence of HPAI and developing contingency
plans for use in the event of an outbreak. An island-wide HPAI
awareness campaign and development program is underway for animal
health and MOH officials, the poultry industry, and farmers. It
includes information on signs to look for in sick birds/humans and
response procedures to be followed if poultry, wild birds and/or
humans indicate influenza symptoms. Emergency response teams have
been established to respond to unusual deaths of birds and poultry
and lab facilities have been upgraded to detect HPAI.

5. (U) In light of recent outbreaks in India, surveillance programs
have been intensified for the current migratory season. According
to Dr. Paba Palihawadana, the government's acting chief
epidemiologist, observation activities for influenza in humans are
underway in 20 hospitals identified as sentinel sites. Surveillance
activities carried out on poultry and wild birds have also been
increased. Additional training for medical staff, stockpiling of
anti viral drugs in the selected hospitals, regular testing of
samples, and strengthening of port quarantine measures are also

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underway.

Demand for Poultry
------------------

6. (SBU) Retailer's reported a 15 percent drop in demand immediately
after bird flu was reported in India earlier this year. The
President of the Sri Lanka All Island Poultry Association, D.D.
Wanasinghe, states that sales at live markets and processed chicken
recorded a 15 percent drop in recent months. Industry officials are
concerned that a drop in demand could lead to farmers compromising
feed and other inputs to reduce costs. Feed is the costliest input
in domestic chicken production which results in high retail prices,
causing a reduced demand. However, demand reduction for poultry can
also be attributed to existing high inflation which is reducing
consumer spending power. Current retail prices of whole chicken
average $3.50/kilo. The average Sri Lankan finds it difficult to
consume animal protein on a regular basis, given the relatively high
prices of these items.

Donor Assistance for AI programs
---------------------------------

7. (U) Director General of DAPH, Dr. Swarna Herath, appreciates of
the role played by international donors to support the government's
efforts in implementing an effective AI prevention and surveillance
plan. Dr. J. Dharmawardana, the Director of Veterinary Research
Institute (VRI) informed post that USDA funding for training
opportunities, particularly the in-country programs carried out by
the USDA experts, were instrumental in standardizing and developing
protocols for effective laboratory testing and detection for HPAI.

8. (SBU) USDA is not alone in allocating resources to aid Sri Lanka
in combating AI. Several donors, including USAID, USDA, FAO, WHO,
and the World Bank, play key roles in assisting the government to
implement an AI prevention and control programs in the country.
Specifically:
--WHO provides technical assistance and consultancy on human health
aspect of AI.
--USAID, in collaboration with FAO and the Department of Animal
Production and Health (DAPH), provided nearly USD
1,000,000 to strengthen early warning and early response capacity
and provide critical preparedness materials and equipment to
Department of Animal Production and Health and other stakeholders.
--USDA provided training for several animal health officials in the
U.S. and Taiwan, and supported experts in attending in-country
practical training programs.
--World Bank provided a grant of USD 1.2 million to assist with the
NPP.

Gaps in Preparations
----------------------

9. (SBU) Technical cooperation among relevant government agencies,
donors and other stakeholders is well coordinated. Donors are
providing necessary financial resources to help the government
upgrade its AI prevention and detection facilities and to build
capacity. Local authorities have made commendable progress in
improving capacity for HPAI detection in animals and humans.
Inter-agency cooperation among government departments, a rarity in
Sri Lanka, is excellent.

10. (SBU) Unfortunately, Dr. Raaijmakers reports that high level
political commitment for AI has declined in recent years due to the
absence of an AI outbreak. Implementation of the preparedness plan
is slow; in particular, the communication component to general
population needs to be expedited. Additionally, surveillance in the
Northern Province is not at required levels because of a lack of
animal health officials in the area due to the ongoing conflict.

COMMENT
--------

11. (U) Sri Lanka's preparations for AI are progressing
satisfactorily. It is key, however, that the preparedness plan be

COLOMBO 00001055 003 OF 003


fully implemented to mitigate the impact of an outbreak; extensive
surveillance is vital to achieve this objective. Continued USG
assistance to provide equipment and training for GSL officials will
support the country's commendable efforts to date in dealing with
the threat of AI.

BLAKE

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