Fortnight after outbreak, awareness zero - Handling birds OK, not eating: Villagers

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  • Published 30.01.08

Nanoor (Birbhum), Jan. 30: Ansar Ali of Suchpur had bought 40 chickens from fellow villagers on Friday to sell them in Bolpur, 30km away.

All his birds have died. Ansar, 28, has lost Rs 2,500.

A ban on sale and purchase of poultry was in place across Birbhum district when Ansar had bought the chickens. But he didn’t know about the ban.

Hundreds of villagers in Suchpur, where bird flu was confirmed yesterday, lack basic awareness about the virus over a fortnight after the outbreak was first confirmed in the district.

“Panchayat officials came here a couple of times to say we should give away our birds, but they didn’t explain why,” said a villager who refused to identify himself.

The first poultry deaths were reported from the village in mid-December. The first samples were sent for tests only four days ago.

The village houses 220 families that had about 4,000 chickens and ducks. About 90 per cent of them have died in the past two months. A rapid response team came to the village last week to cull birds as a “preventive” measure.

“The women did not allow the birds to be handed over as they were not diseased. The culling team also did not explain anything and merely said those who wanted to hand over the birds could do so,” said Tapan Chowdhury, a CPM local committee member.

In Suchpur and neighbouring villages like Baitara and Noyanagar, children are still handling birds and burying the dead ones with bare hands.

“We came to know about the flu from TV and stopped eating chicken and eggs. But there is no harm in handling them,” said Mohammad Ayub, 21, of Suchpur.

The 21 birds his family owned died yesterday. He buried them in his field.

Like Ayub, Saidul Mirza, 37, a daily labourer in Rampurhat I block where the outbreak was confirmed two weeks ago, believes the only harm is in eating chicken or eggs.

The severed head of a dead chicken was lying on the main thoroughfare of Suchpur. Bare-foot children were stamping on it.

“The officers wanted chickens. Why should we give away ducks?” asked Nasirul Bibi, who has three swans.

District health officials claimed that “all necessary steps” had been taken. “We have allotted Rs 640 for each affected panchayat to organise awareness campaigns through public address systems and leaflets,” said chief medical officer Sunil Kumar Bhowmik.

A fresh round of culling will start here tomorrow with 15 teams.

Darjeeling ban

The Darjeeling and Kalimpong municipalities have banned sale and purchase of poultry products as a precautionary measure.

Although Darjeeling district is still untouched by the flu, most chicken vendors in the hills source poultry products from the plains through Siliguri. Bird flu has been confirmed in the nearby Cooch Behar district.