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Cablegate: State Governments Contain Avian Influenza Outbreaks in West

VZCZCXRO4349
RR RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHLH RUEHNEH RUEHPW
DE RUEHCI #0354/01 3590833
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240833Z DEC 08
FM AMCONSUL KOLKATA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2228
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 2723

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KOLKATA 000354

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR OES/PCI, PES/IHB, SCA/INS, STAS, AIAG
HHS PASS TO NIH/FIC (GLASS/MAMPILLY/HANDLEY) FDA
(LUMPKIN/WELSCH, GENEVA FOR HOFMAN)
MAS/DAS/JESTRADA
MAC/DAS/HVINEYARD
CDC FOR BLOUNT/FERRELL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KFLU EAGR ECON ETRD SENV CASC PGOV IN BG
SUBJECT: STATE GOVERNMENTS CONTAIN AVIAN INFLUENZA OUTBREAKS IN WEST
BENGAL AND ASSAM

REF: NEW DELHI 3184

KOLKATA 00000354 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: The West Bengal state government (GOWB) has
completed culling operations in the confirmed Avian Influenza
(AI) epicenter in Malda district. The GOWB claims to have
contained the latest outbreak, citing its limited size and
better level of preparedness. One senior GOWB official
privately conjectured that AI outbreaks may be caused by poultry
trade with Bangladesh during the Islamic religious holidays.
While GOWB officials have made themselves available to the
press, they have not conducted an active public information
campaign. The state government confirmed plans for a H15N
testing facility in Kolkata by the end of January 2009. The
government of Assam reports no new AI outbreaks.

West Bengal Culling Operations Completed

2. (SBU) On December 22 West Bengal state government's Rapid
Response Teams completed culling and mopping operations in the
villages of Narhatta and Satgharia in Malda district. Teams
culled approximately 28,700 birds (9,000 of which were from
commercial farms) and destroyed 1,255 eggs and 197 kg of feed.
West Bengal's Principal Secretary for Animal Husbandry
Development Department Dilip Chakraborty told PolOff that that
the current AI outbreak in Malda is limited in size, especially
when compared to the outbreak earlier in 2008, and claimed that
the GOWB has been able to limit its spread.

3. (U) According to Chakraborty, the GOWB distributed
approximately USD 20,000 in culling compensation per rates
established in a central government February 7, 2008 directive.
This circular established the following prices: USD 1 for an
egg-laying chicken, USD 0.80 for a broiler, USD 1.5 for a duck
and USD 0.4 for a chick. Compensation costs are split 50/50
between the center and the state. Individual states may top-up
this compensation program through their own state budgets.
Assam (see Reftel) doubled the amount paid for a broiler to
better approximate prevailing market prices. GOWB officials did
not see a need to enhance their compensation program which
admittedly is about half of the prevailing market prices.

No Confirmed Cases of Human Infection

4. (U) Both Assam and West Bengal have no confirmed cases of
human infection. The Malda district's chief medical officer
confirmed that four culling personnel had exhibited flu-like
symptoms; however, one has since recovered, two were asthma
patients and one is under continued observation.

GOWB's Weak AI Information Campaign

5. (SBU) Chakraborty briefs the press daily on the state's
efforts to manage the AI outbreak. However, unlike during the
previous outbreak this year, the department has not updated the
state's website which has contributed to a lack of official news
about the AI. He expressed his displeasure at what he termed
"sensationalist" and "irresponsible" journalism that he claims
has focused on isolated instances of culling non-compliance or
minor logistical differences in implementation. While he did
not have a figure for the overall effect on the state's poultry
industry, he noted that the immediate effect of the announcement
of AI outbreak had contributed to a 25 percent decline in the
market price of processed chicken in unaffected districts such
as Kolkata. He also told Poloff about the state government's
plans to have an AI testing laboratory facility operational by
the end of January 2009. The facility will be responsible for
Eastern India and is the only one of its kind outside of Bhopal.
It should provide for expedited confirmation in the event of an
outbreak.

6. (SBU) Despite the GOWB's claim that it had completed culling
and mopping operations in the affected villages, one of post's
media contacts in Malda cited seeing poultry in villages well
within the epicenter of outbreak. He also reported villager
dissatisfaction with the compensation amount and an initial
unwillingness to participate in the culling program. The GOWB
utilized the local imams to convince the inhabitants of the
Muslim villages to participate in the culling program.

KOLKATA 00000354 002.2 OF 002

7. (SBU) In a December 23 meeting Chakraborty privately
suggested a correlation between the Islamic religious festivals
such as Eid-ul-Azha and Muharram and the AI outbreaks in West
Bengal. During these festivals animals are often exchanged or
given for sacrifice and there is a significant amount of
cross-border trade with Bangladesh. The GOI prohibits the
export of beef (a central competency) and only the governments
of West Bengal and Kerala permit its slaughter (a state
competency). Cattle producers from throughout India therefore
export live cattle to Bangladesh for slaughter. Traders return
with skins and hides for West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh tanneries
and with live poultry from Bangladesh. He personally advocated
the legal export of beef to limit the cross border trade in
livestock and poultry and as an additional source of government
revenue. While acknowledging the political sensitivities of a
possible AI/Islamic festival correlation, he said he would not
be surprised if AI reappears during the January 2009 observance
of Shiite holiday Muharram.

No New Reports in Northeast India

8. (U) There are no new confirmed reports of the H5N1 virus in
the state of Assam. Meghalaya has finished culling, mopping and
sanitization in the affected border region with Assam (one of
Assam's epicenter's three kilometer radius extends into
Meghalaya). There are no reports of unusual bird mortality in
the neighboring state of Nagaland.

Comment

9. (SBU) The current AI outbreak is much smaller than the
outbreak that occurred previously this year and, as a result,
has not tested the GOWB's claimed ability to better contain an
AI outbreak. The suggestion of a correlation between AI
outbreaks and Islamic festivals is worth examining, but in a
tactful manner given the political sensitivities.
PAYNE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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