Avian influenza is a virus causing lethal infection in human beings (Sims et al., 2003). It can be transmitted from patients to other human beings. It is a deadly virus with track record of 6 deaths in Hong Kong in 1997. That incident was just the start of this health issue. The virus spread enormously and caused H5N1 infection numerous times in Hong Kong. The dawn of 21st century witnessed multiple instances of H5N1 virus (Ellis et al., 2004).
It was expected that the virus could be found in the poultry animals and was infectious. In order to prove it, there were certain laboratory tests conducted on chickens. These tests helped prove the presence and effects of H5N1 virus (Shortridge et al. 1998). Subsequently, it was proved that the chickens were highly pathogenic (Shortridge et al., 1998). It was also proved that the virus was transferrable from poultry animals to other animals and human beings as well.
In the light of these proven facts, the authorities felt the need to take serious measures to control its spread. Consequently, the issue was more or less, under control in 2001. However, it badly affected the chicken market. It was a historic record that 800 chickens were diagnosed with the presence of same virus within three days and government felt it necessary to slaughter all the chickens in the suspected markets. Almost 6000 chickens were slaughtered in the month of May (Owen, 2010 and Yui, 2010).
The authorities measured the efficiency of their precautionary measures and concluded that virus found in chickens was somewhat similar to the one diagnosed in 1997 in human beings. The similarity was found in the characteristic to transfer itself to the human beings. As a result, government tool serious initiative to close the market for fortnight and sterilize it (Owen and Yui, 2010).
As the news of virus found in chicken spread, the prices of chickens dropped by 20% within the same week. The event resulted in a decline of 40% in the sales as consumers preferred the consumption of frozen chicken in comparison to fresh product (Owen and Yui, 2010).
The Hong Kong government took major initiatives in minimizing the probability of occurrence of influenza pandemic after the subsequent H5N1 events. The cost incurred by the influenza pandemic is not limited to the realm of economics and finance only. It also casts drastic pressures on the logistics capacity pertaining to essential resources. This is depicted well in the example of bird flu occurring in Suffolk, a farm in Turkey. In February 2007, the community there imposed policies in response to the bird flu, which aimed at closure of businesses and schools. Such policies actually hindered the delivery of basic services to the people which included delivery of proper health services, social care and food (Owen and Yui, 2010).
Researches conducted on the H5N1 events occurring in Hong Kong depicted the fact that direct contact tends to be the principle mode of transmission of avian influenza to humans from poultry. Just like other harmful viruses, e.g. veterinary viruses, avian influenza cannot be eliminated completely. This implies that it is difficult to completely protect the entire poultry population from the harmful effects of avian influenza. Due to this, there exists two policy options (Owen and Yui, 2010):
(1) to segregate the infected poultry present in the retail market from the customers, assuming the fact that the infected poultry due to avian influenza already exists within the retail market. This policy aims at reducing the possibility of contact between live poultry and public from the retail side of the market industry.
(2) to take appropriate preventive measures which aim at keeping the infected poultry from getting in to the local market from the local farms.
The current situation suggests that there exists a high probability of occurrence of avian influenza outbreak in the future. The core focus of the current healthcare policy revolves around the prevention of infected poultry from entering into the retail market. This implies formulation of effective policy measures which focus on isolation of infected poultry in order to keep the avian influenza virus away from the local market and general public (Owen and Yui, 2010).
Clear concise summary of health policy
There are three response levels of the government's plan. These levels include Alert, Serious and Emergency. The risk assessment of influenza pandemic affecting Hong Kong and the degree of health consequences casted by the influenza upon the community actually determines these response levels. The risk assessment revolves around the following core aspects:
The degree of transmissibility of the infection, which implies the evidence pertaining to the sustainability level of a community for human-to-human transmission (Hedley et al., 2004).
Geographical spread of the disease in animals or humans, which includes the volume of travel and trade existing between Hong Kong and affected areas and the global distribution to affected areas (Hedley et al., 2004).
Clinical severity pertaining to the illness, which includes death rates, hospitalisations and serious complications occurring due to the disease.
Vulnerability level of the population, which comprises of pre-existing immunity level, target groups having higher risk of attack rates or enhanced risk levels of serious disease.
Degree of availability of preventive measures which include antiviral agents and vaccine; and Recommendations made by the International health authorities like World Health Organization (WHO).
The prevalent situation actually determines the assessment risk. There exists limited information regarding the pandemic during its initial stages. However, as the pandemic progresses, the availability of information increases. Such information comprise of factors like case fatality ratio, population which involves high risk levels, transmission characteristics, reproductive number and complication rate. The government is entrusted with the responsibility of developing relevant scientific knowledge after reviewing risk assessment from time to time. These initiatives of the Government are instrumental in ensuring the activation of appropriate response level and the adoption of relevant measures (Hedley et al., 2004).
The strenuous efforts rendered by the Government in this aspect are highly acknowledged, however the program is still not comprehensive. The Government has not yet succeeded in taking appropriate steps for disabling the agent, vector, host triangle and interrupting it absolutely. There lies a dire need to discuss the reasons behind this (Riley et al., 2003; Owen and Yui, 2010).
The following paragraph extracted and paraphrased from the policy document clearly depicts the relevant hazards -- Considering the intensity of H5N1 avian influenza virus and its harmful effects to other species, the human health encounters the continuous risk of daily exposure to approximately 100,000 live poultry during their transportation and their contact at retail and wholesale outlets (Owen and Yui, 2010).
One needs to agree with the above mentioned statement, which clearly explains the fact that intermingling of potentially infected animals and people actually result in a new lethal virus strain, which can easily be transmitted from one human to another. This is basically an irreversible process, which has yielded tens of thousands of death cases and millions of influenza cases as indicated by the illustrative estimates. Conservative estimates pertaining to the possible avian influenza impact on human health are provided later on, which also indicate the mortality level in Hong Kong. As it is a mutated virus and Hong Kong is regarded as the central hub in Asia Pacific, the virus could spread immediately and transmitted contagiously to other humans on the global scale (Owen and Yui, 2010).
The trade-off existing between the risk encountered by the global, local, and regional health from avian influenza and the preferences of the people in opting for eating fresh meat of slaughtered chicken needs to be addressed. There lies a need to take appropriate precautionary pertaining to the public health of the people in order to benefit maximum number of people. The classical basic epidemiological model of agent, vector and host forms the core foundation of the response towards the consultation document (Owen and Yui, 2010).
The core task in Hong Kong now is the prevention of occurrence of a potential catastrophic outbreak due to avian influenza. The task involves following initiatives:
Agent: Firstly identify the source agent and suppress it accordingly in order to prevent the occurrence of new strains, which might be highly harmful for both humans and farmed animals (Owen and Yui, 2010).
Vector: Interrupt in a way which prevents the spread of virus from avian or any species to humans. This implies eliminating the modes of transmission which transfer the virus among different species (Owen and Yui, 2010).
Host: protection of human host via the available methods which include (Owen and Yui, 2010):
(a) Organizational and administrative mechanisms with legal enforcement
(b) Medical and immunological therapeutic methods
(c) Physical protective barriers
There is a need to analyse the views of "live poultry trade" keeping in view the projected or established public health risks and the essential measures required for their prevention. They actually have an obvious statement fact which argues that central…