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New H5N1 Outbreak Confirmed in Pakistan/Global Employment Crisis in Poultry Deepens

Posted to the IUF website 18-Apr-2006

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A new outbreak of the the H5N1 avian flu virus has been confirmed at a poultry farm in Sihala, near Islamabad, where production supplies the major metropolitan area of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Poultry sales in Pakistan have already declined by an estimated 40% following an earlier outbreak of the virus in two poultry farms in the Northwestern part of the country in March.

Pakistani medical experts are advising poultry workers to wash their hands thoroughly after work and urging anyone handling poultry to wear masks and gloves. These basic preventive measures, however, are far from being universally implemented, including in places where viral outbreaks have been detected and humans have been infected.

Basic occupational and public health measures are still lacking in Indonesia, where the H5N1 virus has been detected in over two-thirds of the country's provinces, and twenty-three reported cases of the virus in humans have proved fatal. The WHO has now confirmed the 33rd case of human infection - a poultry worker in Padang, West Sumatra. While a reported 194 people have been infected worldwide, the official death toll now stands at 109. International agencies have recommended against mass cullings in Indonesia.

According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) more than 20% of Indonesia's permanent industrial and commercial farm workers have lost their jobs - in a country with no social security net. It has been estimated that between one-third and a half of the populations in the South East Asian countries hit by the virus derive at least some income from poultry production.

The FAO also expects global chicken production to continue to decline drastically. Sharply declining poultry consumption is not limited to the countries directly affected by the spread of the H5N1 virus. Brazil, which exports a third of its production, and together with the US produces 70% of global exports, faces an estimated drop of at least 15% as consumers turn away. The crisis is also impacting on the feed sector, which in Europe has reported a 40% decline in orders this year.

As the IUF has repeatedly pointed out, the spread of the H5N1 virus is already being experienced as a social catastrophe of the first magnitude by thousands of un- and underemployed workers and their communities. Programs to compensate workers for lost jobs and income are non-existent. Again we ask: where is the ILO?