The Ministry of Agriculture's Confronting the Outbreak of the Bird Flu / Avian Influenza Infection
By B. General ( res) Avi Bachar
Bird Flu is a kind of viral flu which attacks birds. There are 16 subtypes of bird flu, one of which, H5, may become violent (H5N1) and infect humans. Between 1997 and the end of July 2006, the virus caused 130 human deaths throughout the world. There is a serious concern of the virus mutating and rapidly infectious to humans, similar to the common type of flu which is easily transmitted from one human to another, thus spreading it all over the world and causing multiple human casualties. So far no effective cure has been found for this virus, but it is believed that the drug called "Tamiflu", which is currently used to treat the common flu, could reduce the injury caused to a person infected with the bird flu (hereinafter "the Flu Pandemic"), though not make one immune to it. The general aim is to eradicate the disease, or at least reduce the danger of human infection.
There are two ways of confronting the avian Influenza: one – killing the birds, which means annihilating the infected playpen and destroying all poultry and poultry products within a certain range from the center; the other way is by – vaccinating the birds, which means containing the infected area and vaccinating all the birds in the infected area. Israel, like the rest of the western countries, has adopted the first way – of annihilating the birds.
In mid March 2006 the avian Influenza was detected in kibbutz Ein HaShlosha in southern Israel. By the end of that month the outbreak was diagnosed in eight more settlements. The destruction of birds in all of them was completed on April 1, 2006 and the outbreak was contained. According to professional outcasts the outbreak may return in the coming years, and we must therefore prepare for further outbreaks of the disease.
On March 22 I was urgently summoned by the member of Knesset Zeev Boim who was Minister of Agriculture at the time and by the ministry's general manager Yossi Yishai to assist the Ministry of Agriculture in the assessments of another outbreak.
Israteam is a company specializing in assessing emergency events, including: war, mega terror attacks, earthquakes, and other multi casualty disasters. All members of staff are senior officers, formerly serving in the Home Front Command (IDF) Headquarter and extremely qualified in handling management in times of various disasters. Their comprehension and skills have helped us guide the Ministry in their assessments in the manner of containing and handling anther outbreak of Avian influenza if it will occur.
Since it could not be predicted when a future outbreak may occur, it was necessary to initiate activities within a short period of time to enable the Ministry of Agriculture to treat a future outbreak without the assistance of the Ministry of Defense or of any other outside factor. Israteam, under the management of its general manager, Avi Bachar, immediately took up action on a large scale.
Here is what the Ministry of Agriculture has accomplished since the beginning of activities on this subject:
At the height of the outbreak we have introduced into the process of learning and conclusion drawing two senior professionals who accompanied the activities and studied the needs, failures and management processes throughout the extermination of the birds. Based on their survey, conclusions were drawn in the course of a session headed by the general manager of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The first realization was that no arrangements have been previously made to deal with a multi-focal event, and that there was in fact no reference scenario to prepare for such an event. We therefore immediately made up a reference scenario in case of a multi-focal event, which made it possible to assess the magnitude of the problem and begin preparations for an assessment plan to handle all the required activity subjects, including:
- Division of jurisdictions between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Veterinarian Services,
- Writing procedures for each of the factors participating in the activities, from the farmer to the national control center (which was nonexistent at the time),
- Placing the regional managers of the Ministry of Agriculture in charge of the overall activity on site (they had been uninvolved until then),
- Constructing an operational concept of low level management on site, which would allow activities in many locations simultaneously and also training the managers for the destruction sites,
- Setting up safety regulations which would enable a high level of confidence in the people who have to perform the actual work for extended periods of time,
- Allocating new technologies for killing and terminating (destroying) the birds,
- Shared procedures with the Ministry of Health which is responsible for public health,
- Compiling a guide for the local authority, after having coordinated the issues with the general manager of the Ministry of Internal Affairs,
- Writing a guide for the poultry farmer containing the required safety instructions before an outbreak, what he must do to cooperate if and when it becomes necessary to destroy the poultry; and most importantly, informing him of his rights and what he must do to receive compensation from the government.
- We also work with the Ministry Spokesman to deal with the Media and PR
The regulations (a first draft) were completed within a very short time, and on April 14 we conducted a seminar for the personnel of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Veterinarian Services, where the regulation principles were presented and copies handed out to all participants. The participating staff of the local authorities was also given a circular from the general manager of the Ministry of Internal Affairs addressed to the local authorities. The regulations were then made available on the Ministry of Agriculture's internet site.
Immediately after the seminar we formed a plan for continued assessments and completion of procedures, which was later approved for execution by the general manager. It also included: training programs, seminars and drills, setting up technology teams, employing contractors, etc.
One of the weak links which was diagnosed in the first stages of the survey was the lack of skilled managers who could supervise the work in the many exterminating locations which would be required in case of a multi-focal outbreak (over 100 persons). It was clearly essential to train more personnel in addition to the supervisors who were not doing this work as part of their daily routines. On July 30-31 we conducted a seminar for site managers where almost 100 people participated from the Ministry, the Veterinarian Services and the Poultry Council.