US embassy cable - 06RANGOON124

TECHNOCRATS WILLING TO ENGAGE ON AVIAN INFLUENZA

Identifier: 06RANGOON124
Wikileaks: View 06RANGOON124 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Rangoon
Created: 2006-01-31 01:12:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: EAGR EAID AMED PGOV PREL SOCI TBIO KFLU BM
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO6840
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHGO #0124/01 0310112
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 310112Z JAN 06
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4001
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0592
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 9382
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 3964
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1444
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3140
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 6483
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0479
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4092
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0564
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0552
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0163
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2499
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 000124 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EAP/MLS; PACOM FOR FPA; USDA FOR FAS, APHIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/07/2015 
TAGS: EAGR, EAID, AMED, PGOV, PREL, SOCI, TBIO, KFLU, BM 
SUBJECT: TECHNOCRATS WILLING TO ENGAGE ON AVIAN INFLUENZA 
 
REF: RANGOON 1257 
 
RANGOON 00000124  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
Classified By: Econoff TLManlowe for Reasons 1.4 (b,d) 
 
1. (C) Summary:  The first visit of USAID's Regional 
Infectious Diseases Advisor based in Bangkok, prompted a rare 
level of access and engagement by GOB counterparts.  Eager 
for information as well as support, experts at the Ministries 
of Health and, especially, Livestock and Fisheries discussed 
weaknesses in Burma's preparedness to cope with an Avian 
Influenza (AI) outbreak, focusing on surveillance, lab 
capabilities, disease response and public awareness. 
Although GOB officials expressed a firm grasp of what is 
necessary to create a response to the threat of AI, they 
admitted that a lack of political buy-in by the regional 
military commanders could create obstacles to effective 
implementation of their plans.  The USAID Advisor encouraged 
GOB officials to consult more closely with UN agencies, 
particularly WHO, UNICEF and FAO, and he encouraged the UN 
offices to coordinate AI assistance, following other models 
in the region.  U.S. assistance would be most welcome.  Post 
recommends broadcasting short-wave radio AI awareness 
programs and supporting UN technical assistance and training 
programs in country or in the region.  End Summary. 
 
UN Engagement Ramping Up 
------------------------ 
2. (SBU) During his January 18-20 visit to Rangoon, Dr. John 
MacArthur, USAID Regional Infectious Diseases Advisor, met 
with representatives from FAO, WHO, UNICEF, the Ministry of 
Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries 
(MLF).  WHO Representative Dr. Adik Wibowo expressed 
eagerness to collaborate closely with the USG, and that she 
would coordinate with WHO and USAID Bangkok offices for 
assistance and training.  She noted that no bilateral donors 
were contributing to improve Burma's ability to detect an 
outbreak.  Dr. Wibowo said that WHO in Rangoon was beginning 
to work closely with the GOB on AI and had advised the 
inter-ministerial committee that drafted Burma's national AI 
plan.  She said a WHO AI expert team is currently in country 
looking at labs, disease control, and surveillance.  This 
team would brief the GOB committee on its findings.  She 
invited Dr. MacArthur to attend the monthly AI committee 
meetings in Rangoon, which he agreed to do. 
 
3. (SBU) UNICEF officials briefed Dr. MacArthur about the 
inclusion of AI precautions in their communication programs 
on hygiene.  They also noted that, because of a perceived 
negative impact on poultry sales, commercial chicken 
producers had influenced a high level official to withdraw 
informational TV spots.  Public service announcements at 
cinemas and on the radio continue.  FAO assistant 
representative Saw Ler Wah said that FAO had not assisted in 
preparing Burma's AI contingency plan, although it offered 
technical assistance.  The GOB considers itself a 
"non-affected country," however, and it had declined FAO's 
offers.  Dr. MacArthur encouraged UN representatives to 
coordinate their activities closely, as other UN teams have 
done in the region. 
 
GOB Experts Engage 
------------------ 
4. (SBU) At a meeting attended by expert level officials, Dr. 
Tin Win Maung, Director General of MOH's Department of Health 
said that the Department trains health workers on AI.  At the 
township level, local military commanders chair monthly 
Health Committee meetings that address general health issues. 
 The commander has ultimate authority for any actions in his 
respective area, so all activities conducted by any ministry 
require his approval. This would include notifying central 
authorities about a suspected AI case.  The DG described the 
GOB response to a case of suspected bird flu in Kengtung in 
eastern Shan State (reftel).  The GOB closed the school and 
 
RANGOON 00000124  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
market, ordered villagers to stay inside, and sent specimens 
to a lab in Thailand for tests, through WHO.  The results 
came back negative for AI, but the process took at least 
seven days from detection to confirmed results.  This time 
lag is a big problem, GOB officials admitted, and they 
acknowledged the need for better lab facilities in country. 
Rangoon will host an ASEAN Health Ministers meeting in June, 
and a possible theme will be "ASEAN: Unity in Health 
Emergencies," the DG said. 
 
5. (SBU) The Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries put together 
a three day itinerary for Dr. MacArthur, including visits to 
labs, markets, and farms, as well as meetings with senior 
level officials, some of whom had just returned from the 
Beijing donor conference on AI.  U Maung Maung Nyunt, 
Director General of the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary 
Department, hosted an early Saturday morning meeting with 
senior experts, immediately upon his return from the 
conference.  He said that Burma follows FAO and OIE 
regulations and is using the World Bank model to develop its 
response to AI. 
 
6. (SBU) DG Maung Maung Nyunt described the situation in 
Burma and his ministry's efforts on AI.  The Ministry wants 
to put posters in all 80,000 Burmese villages, but only had 
the money to print 1,000.  His officials also designed an 
informational booklet for township authorities.  The DG 
described some active surveillance, including testing 1,500 
random samples from birds in sanctuaries, farms and markets. 
Maung Maung Nyunt also noted that efforts at the township 
level and below depend upon the local commander's support. 
 
7. (C) At all of Dr. MacArthur's meetings officials willingly 
shared information about the Burmese response to the AI 
threat.  The GOB and UN representatives agreed on priority 
areas that must be addressed: surveillance capability for 
identification and communication, strengthening labs to be 
able to identify the H5N1 strain, equipping the hospitals 
that will treat suspected cases, and implementing a broad 
public awareness campaign.  Officials were eager to discuss 
the disease, the medical response, the county's existing 
response system and weaknesses, activities of other nations 
in the region, regional cooperation and possible assistance 
from UN agencies and donors.  Only when the discussions 
turned to efforts to engage the senior military leadership 
did officials turn vague. 
 
Comment: Technocrats on Board, Senior Generals Lagging 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
8. (C) Dr. MacArthur's first visit revealed several facets of 
the GOB's position on AI.  The enthusiasm and frankness that 
greeted his visit is uncharacteristic of our normal dealings 
with the government.  The first indication of the GOB's 
interest was Dr. MacArthur's multiple-entry visa, rarely 
given to TDY visitors.  In all discussions, GOB officials 
were open, inquisitive, and informative.  UN interlocutors 
said they had similar experiences in their meetings with the 
GOB on AI.  The Livestock DG told us they know Burma has no 
defense from the disease spreading from neighboring countries 
and that, "the Prime Minster is afraid that AI will wipe out 
many of our citizens." 
 
9. (C) Despite the GOB's realization, at the technical level, 
of the AI threat, political obstacles remain.  No one we 
spoke to could say that the senior military leaders 
supported, with words or resources, activities on AI.  The 
Prime Minister is widely regarded as powerless.  The DGs at 
both ministries also noted that local military commanders 
could stymie any of the AI activities.  To support the 
efforts of those working to address AI in this difficult 
environment, Dr. MacArthur discussed potential areas for USG 
assistance with the Charge.  We recommend funding short-wave 
radio public awareness campaigns and supporting the technical 
 
RANGOON 00000124  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
assistance and training efforts of WHO and FAO.  End comment. 
 
10. (U) Dr. MacArthur did not have the opportunity to clear 
this message. 
VILLAROSA 

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