CAIRO: Even as word spread that a child in Fayoum had contracted a case of avian influenza, the poultry market appeared to remain stable.
Prices per kilo now average between LE 13 and LE 14.
The poultry industry in Egypt is massive, both in scale and importance, and it seems to have adapted to cope with the steady stream of bird flu cases that began with the first announced case in mid-February 2006.
When cases of bird flu first hit Egypt three years ago, there was massive panic in the marketplace. Poultry sales trailed off severely and thousands of birds were killed to prevent a further outbreak.
In the three months after the first case of bird flu, it was estimated that the government culled over 20 million fowl.
It took several months for poultry demand to begin to rise again after the discovery of the first case of bird flu. But as cases continue to be announced, the poultry market reacts little these days.
Sunday’s announcement of a case in Fayoum governorate became the 56th occurrence of the virus in Egypt. With cases occurring so frequently and with, as Reuters reported, over 5 million families depending on poultry for food and income, the country can ill-afford to stop buying chicken.
The Egyptian government has worked actively to become part of the solution. Today, practically all cases of bird flu come from the informal chicken industry as opposed to from the larger commercial farms.
“I think that the situation now is better than last year, said Mohamed El-Shefei, vice chairman of the Poultry Council of Egypt. “Eighty percent or more of poultry in Egypt is in the hands of the commercial sector.
But, El-Shefei warned, the problem is far from solved.
“When you learn of infected people, it’s mainly from the rural areas, he said. “The backyard area and the rural area need help from the Ministry of Agriculture.
But critics argue that the government has yet to put in place a plan that will help eliminate bird flu from the rural areas.
Egypt and Cambodia, Reuters reported, are the only two countries in the world with high numbers of bird flu cases that do not offer compensation to farmers whose livestock is destroyed as a result of a bird flu outbreak or scare.
“In our view, compensation for the value of birds that are destroyed for the control of avian influenza is important if public cooperation is to occur, David Nabarro, the UN bird flu chief, told Reuters last October.
Egypt did initially commit to paying affected farmers, compensating those who suffered losses in the first three months of the outbreak. But the program ended in May 2006 and the government has yet to renew it.
Bird flu outbreaks have the potential to affect scores of families because of the aggressive containment policies a government must employ.
“If we hear somebody is infected with avian influenza, said El-Shefei, “immediately the authorities go to them and kill off any birds in the area.
This often means that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of birds are culled to address any one occurrence of the virus.
Reuters reported that since 2003, 15 countries have experienced cases of bird flu in humans, with a total of 408 reported cases. 254 people have died.
The influenza virus has been found in birds in 61 countries and brought on the slaughter of more than 300 million birds.
The latest boy to be infected, Youssef Abdel-Azim, was given Tamiflu, an antivirus, and is in critical condition in Cairo.