Monday, January 21, 2008

West Bengal battles with bird flu

This is a recent blog entry on BBC about a journalist who recent traveled to the epicenter of the bird flu otbreak in Margram, West Bengal.

Margram is a large village in West Bengal - it is also the epicentre of the bird flu outbreak.

As I walk into the village, I can see a group of young children playing in the fields. Next to them are dead chickens.

Some of the children are picking up the dead bird's feathers to sell.

They have no idea of the dangers of touching infected birds.

Next to them, sat outside his hut, is an old man.

Anwar Hoque has his head in his hands.

As I walk past he starts shouting: "We have no help from the government - we want medicines but they are not providing us with them and we have cannot afford to buy them from the shops."

There is no sign of the flu anti-viral Tamiflu here.

Slow progress

What strikes me about this rural village is the lack of government officials.

Children look on as an official culls a chick 18/1/08
Officials say not everyone is co-operating with the cull

Many of the 60,000 people who live here keep chickens - indeed some estimate that there were 150,000 chickens in this village before the outbreak of bird flu.

For many, poultry farming is their only source of income.

Yet very few know anything about avian flu - and there seem to be few officials on hand to provide these villagers with information.

After walking around the village for 15 minutes I finally see a team of men in protective white suits.

They are part of the culling team. The state government here in West Bengal has ordered the culling of 400,000 birds.

But progress is very slow.

The man leading this team is Dr Ramchandratta. He tells me this morning they have only killed five birds.

He is angry with the villagers and says: "They are not interested in handing over their birds and that is making life very hard for us."

In front of me, one of his team has a young chick in his hand and is surrounded by a group of children.

He kills it by breaking its neck.


As I walk away Dr Ramchandratta asks me to come back.

Boxes of supplies stacked up at emergency HQ on 18/1/08
Local government has no experience of handling the disease

He tells me he is a "soldier of the government" and he is trying his best but people are not listening to him.

There are stories here of some villagers smuggling birds out to other areas and even of some culling teams being attacked.

It is a chaotic scene.

Just outside the village is a large yellow building. It is from here that Kakoli Mukherjee is directing operations to tackle the problem.

Sitting at her desk, she is surrounded by villagers.

She accepts that there are problems, but says: "none of us have any experience of dealing with this disease".

Avian flu is spreading across West Bengal.

As I drive out of Margram it is clear that unless the villagers and the local government start working together this problem can only get worse.


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