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Cablegate: Avian Influenza in Venezuela: Dialogue, Outreach,

VZCZCXRO2605
RR RUEHAO
DE RUEHCV #2295/01 2151710
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 031710Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5706
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 6853
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 5678
RUEHWN/AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN 0722
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RUEHSP/AMEMBASSY PORT OF SPAIN 3220
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 2322
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE 1208
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR 0956
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 3675
RUEHDG/AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO 0289
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0575
RUEHAO/AMCONSUL CURACAO 0930
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL 0569
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 0036
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE USD FAS
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
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RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0897
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0411

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 CARACAS 002295

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

G/AIAG FOR MARGARET JONES
WHA/EPSC FOR FAITH CORNIELLE
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USAID LAC/RSD-PHN FOR KAREN WELSH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KFLU TBIO EAGR ECON VE
SUBJECT: AVIAN INFLUENZA IN VENEZUELA: DIALOGUE, OUTREACH,
AND POST PREPAREDNESS

REF: CARACAS 630

CARACAS 00002295 001.2 OF 005


This message is sensitive but unclassified, please treat
accordingly.

-------
Summary
-------

1. (U) On July 19, the Economic Section held an Avian
Influenza Seminar in the Embassy, which drew over 20
participants from the poultry processing sector and the
Ministry of Agriculture (MAT). The Seminar provided a forum
to better understand the BRV's plans for Avian Influenza as
well as to highlight the private sector's concerns. So far,
the BRV has drafted a "procedure manual" based on FAO
standards (not yet made public) and is looking to reach out
to the private poultry producers, who were mostly unaware
that the BRV had any preparations at all. Producers were
especially concerned about biosecurity and compensation in
the event of an outbreak. Post has set up an AI listserve
and is looking to hold DVCs with experts as part of an
ongoing outreach strategy. In addition, Post sent the MAT
Animal Health Coordinator to the U.S. on a Voluntary Visitor
(VolVis) program in April, and held an Embassy AI Emergency
Action Subcommittee meeting in May. End Summary.

--------------------------------
Video sparks talk about AI plans
--------------------------------

2. (U) The Econ section coordinated an Avian Influenza
Seminar on July 19. Turnout was suprisingly high, and over
20 participants from the poultry industry (including
pro-government companies and one Brazilian industry
representative) and the Ministry of Agriculture's Animal
Health Inspection Service (SASA) attended. Post
participation included the Environmental Hub Officer and
personnel from the Health Unit, American Citizen Services
(ACS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS),
and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

3. (U) The Seminar began with an edited version of the
video "Killer Flu" (produced by State), which highlighted
some human health aspects of AI, showed how animal health
authorities in Vietnam dealt with an outbreak, and touched on
cultural barriers to eradication of the disease. The
participants used it as a platform to begin a lively
discussion on Avian Influenza in Venezuela. Aimara Flores,
SASA's AI coordinator, began by acknowledging that her
organization was aware of the problem, and that the BRV had
already taken steps to ban Colombian poultry imports based on
an outbreak of low-path AI (Note: The 2005 poultry ban lifted

CARACAS 00002295 002.2 OF 005


on July 31. End Note) She also noted that some of the
cultural preferences of Vietnam (such as eating raw duck
blood soup) make that country more prone to the disease.
Noting that the video was somewhat alarmist, Flores said that
Venezuela was at low risk for H5N1 Avian Flu, and that the
WHO has not confirmed human-to-human transmission.

------------------
BRV Avian Flu Plan
------------------

4. (U) Flores announced that the BRV had already formed an
AI commission (with joint participation from the government
and the private sector), which has drafted a "procedure
manual" based on an FAO AI plan. She said the manual would
be out soon, but that the Ministry of Agriculture (MAT) had
yet to approve SASA's budget for the project. Later in the
discussion, she criticized that the BRV's funding was being
directed solely at the Ministry of Health (MSDS), and that it
should be going to MAT, as AI is an animal health problem
before it's a human health issue.

5. (U) Flores said that SASA has held over 6 seminars this
year alone, and ran a 40-person simulation involving
government agencies, including Ministries of Health,
Agriculture, Labor and Defense, as well as the customs and
tax agency (SENIAT), the National Hygiene Institute and the
National Institute for Agricultural Research (INIA). Flores
also announced another simulation in September, which will
include the private sector. SASA representatives noted that
they would like to unify diagnostic criteria to make it
routine and consecutive. The invitee from the Ministry of
Health did not attend the seminar, but SASA representatives
said that the MSDS has a supply of Tamiflu (unknown amount),
but has had problems obtaining protective gear.

6. (U) A representative from Post's ACS section asked SASA
how the BRV planned to inform the public about the risks of
Avian Flu. SASA responded that they are preparing public
campaigns that center around food hygiene and general best
practices (once the funding comes through). The Brazilian
poultry sector representative highlighted that actual deaths
from H5N1 Avian Flu were very few, and that waging an
alarmist public campaign would do more harm than good. The
Ministry of Health has opened a hotline to report suspicious
cases, though mass advertising is also pending budget
approval.

----------------------------------
Concerns from the poultry industry
----------------------------------

7. (U) According to participants, per capita chicken

CARACAS 00002295 003.2 OF 005


production is higher in Venezuela than in some of the world's
largest exporters, such as neighboring Brazil. A Venezuelan
poultry producer expressed concern about the "aves de
traspatio" (free-range birds, i.e. not in coops), and how
they often come in contact with commercial poultry despite
biosecurity of facilities. He said this was the Achilles
heel in production (despite biosecurity efforts), and AI
could easily propagate via these birds. SASA did not comment
directly, other than to acknowledge that this was indeed a
weakness.

8. (U) Another poultry producer asked about SASA's plans for
monitoring and testing (presumably for commercial fowl).
SASA answered that they have three migratory bird testing
points, and hope to increase this with more funding (they did
not mention testing of commercial poultry). They plan on
testing over 54,000 birds nationwide, focusing on high-risk
areas, to determine if they are free of AI.

9. (U) Many participants asked about compensation in the
event of an AI outbreak and SASA-mandated extermination of
commercial poultry. One poultry farmer said that unless
there was government compensation, he could theoretically
bury the dead chickens and sell the live ones, and no one
would know. Other participants discussed that compensation
was needed, otherwise there would be an economic incentive to
hide outbreaks. Flores assured the producers that
compensation was part of the BRV "procedure manual" and that
it would be part of the AI policy.

-------------
Post Outreach
-------------

10. (U) During the seminar, post's APHIS representative told
the group about upcoming diagnostics training in Colombia and
the existence of two authorized molecular diagnostics testing
labs for South America, explaining that the labs will require
a trained individual to package the samples. Econoff asked
for feedback regarding future events, and participants
expressed interest in a DVC with avian flu experts and/or
representatives from the U.S. poultry industry. All
participants responded positively to the idea of an AI
listserve for future communications. The listserve was
created on Jul 26, and Econoff has been sending relevant
information, such as Spanish-language AI links and articles.

-----------------
AI VolVis Program
-----------------

11. (U) In April, the Econ Section nominated Gloria
Hernandez, Animal Health Coordinator for SASA, to participate

CARACAS 00002295 004.2 OF 005


in a regional Avian Influenza VolVis Program. (Note: Aimara
Flores was also set to participate, but for health reasons
was not able to go. End Note). Funding for the airfare was
provided by FAS. Hernandez traveled to Washington DC,
Atlanta, and Miami and met with a series of USG agencies
(including CDC, DHS, and DOD) along with a group of animal
and human health officials from South America. The visitor
program received positive reviews from all participants, and
provided a forum to share experiences and learn about U.S.
preparedness for an Avian Flu outbreak. As of June,
Hernandez changed positions within SASA and was named
Director of Zoosanitary Control.

------------------
Post AI Task Force
------------------

12. (SBU) On May 25, Post's AI Emergency Action Subcommittee
convened. The group is comprised of the Deputy Chief of
Mission, Economic Counselor, the Defense Attache, the
Management Counselor, Post's Avian Flu Coordinator (EconOff),
and personnel from the Health Unit, the Regional Security
Office (RSO), ACS, and APHIS. The group discussed pending
items from preparedness checklist. Regarding linkage with
local government health officials, Post's physician said he
had no formal contacts, but the APHIS representative said
that he has regular dialogue SASA and the Pan-American Health
Organization. RSO has discussed facilities access plans, and
is in the process of drafting a plan, but requested any
available guidance. The Health Unit has pre-ordered 200
regular flu shots and has over 3,000 Tamiflu doses, as well
as protective equipment.

-------
Comment
-------

13. (SBU) The Avian Influenza Seminar was a success. It
opened an animated discussion and opened a forum for dialogue
between the private sector and the government -- a task often
difficult to accomplish with the BRV. One poultry producer
told Econoff separately that he found the event very useful,
as he thought the BRV had no plan whatsoever on AI. The
success of the event hints at the lack of prior linkage
between the two groups. The next step is that contacts made
between participants provide an opportunity to bridge that
gap. Though an H5N1 AI outbreak seems highly unlikely at the
present time, both the Embassy and the BRV are making
preparations. The BRV is publicly silent on their AI plan,
and has some preparedness implementation issues (mostly
budgetary), but they are aware of the problem. Post received
a draft SASA avian influenza contingency plan which we are
reviewing; however, it does not yet have BRV interagency

CARACAS 00002295 005.2 OF 005


approval. The Econ Section will continue to reach out the AI
"community" in order to facilitate dialogue and carry on with
contingency preparations for an H5N1 outbreak in Venezuela.
End Comment.
BROWNFIELD

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