House Ways and Means chairperson Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Saturday called on the government to ensure contingencies are in place to prepare the country for the “rapidly evolving” bird flu virus that is now affecting mammals and migratory birds in South America.
“The nature of these things is that they come. It will come to the Philippines, no doubt,” said Salceda, vice chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food.
Since first emerging in 1996, the H5N1 avian influenza virus had previously been confined to mostly seasonal outbreaks. But “something happened” in mid-2021 that made the group of viruses much more infectious, according to Richard Webby, the head of a World Health Organization collaborating center studying influenza in animals.
Salceda said Vietnam, Egypt, and China are already undertaking massive poultry vaccination programs, and that France is doing it in the last quarter of the year.
“There are high risk areas – areas where both wildlife avian migration and poultry raising are heavily concentrated. The hotspots will really be Batangas and Cebu since both are heavy on avian migration and heavy on poultry raising – number 1 and number 3 for top producing provinces,” Salceda said.
“If any wildlife-to-farm contagion is going to happen in the country with H5N1, you can bet on it happening in these two. So, our surveillance and mitigation efforts should be concentrated in these provinces,” he added.
Salceda called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to constitute an Inter-Agency Task Force for Animal Disease.
“The Department of Agriculture should be able to call upon the resources and expertise of other agencies. So an Inter-Agency Task Force with the DA as chairperson and with key members from other agencies should be on the agenda,” the lawmaker said.