Monday, November 30, 2009

AED Connections - Field Studies Inform Efforts to Prevent Avian Flu

The Academy for Educational Development (AED) released an edition of AED Connections with a featured article on avian influenza:

Field Studies Inform Efforts to Prevent Avian Flu

By Tula Michaelides

Headlines such as “The Bird Flu: The Race to Prevent a Global Epidemic” and “The Next Killer Flu. Can we stop it?” abounded in late 2005. That’s when AED started reaching out to rural backyard poultry farmers in Southeast Asia—then the epicenter of bird flu outbreaks—with messages about how to protect themselves and their flocks from the destructive disease and‚ ultimately‚ improve their practices and behaviors.

As AED began its work on the Avian Influenza Behavior Change Communication project, funded by USAID, one thing became clear: little was known about this target audience in general‚ or about its perceptions of avian influenza in particular.

AED quickly fielded a Knowledge‚ Attitudes‚ and Practices survey in Cambodia‚ Indonesia‚ Lao PDR‚ and Indonesia‚” said Robert Kelly‚ the project’s research director. “The initial research findings provided an understanding of what these farmers do that could put them at risk‚ and gave insight into their core values that would allow or prevent them from accepting change.”
The surveys were a form of risk­mapping‚ which helped to identify not only the dangers‚ but also what actions could mitigate those threats‚ Kelly added. The findings showed that the farmers were reluctant to pen their birds because doing so would be expensive, and they did not believe that caging the birds would prevent avian influenza.

Using this information‚ AED designed interventions the farmers would use, such as constructing small cages from local materials. Once one farmer adopted a certain practice‚ others in the community usually would follow suit.

‘Too Much Information’
In addition‚ the avian influenza messages that were created early in the epidemic included a lot of information‚ which tended to overwhelm people.
Long lists of H5N1 virus symptoms were disseminated in calendars‚ posters‚ lectures‚ and news coverage. But people still did not know the difference between H5N1 and the common poultry diseases they had been dealing with for years.

“This ‘too much information syndrome’ led to confusion among these farmers and no reporting of sick poultry since they couldn’t distinguish one disease from the other‚” said Anton Schneider‚ a senior communication specialist for the project. ‘So AED stressed the one critical message—that avian influenza causes sudden death in large numbers—and subsequently started to see an increase in reporting.”

AED’s research found that the media‚ friends‚ and family members were the primary sources of information for farmers. However‚ when researchers asked the families what they actually did in the event of an emergency‚ they discovered that the people looked to their local authorities for guidance.

As a result‚ AED provided village leaders and health workers with comprehensive training packages to inform them about avian influenza and better equip them to respond to their communities’ concerns.

Supply Chain Intervention
To use resources effectively in combating infectious diseases, it is important to conduct risk­mapping and identify hot spots‚ according to Kelly. AED analyzed the supply chain to determine potential opportunities for the virus to enter the system.
The research identified the key players—such as farmers‚ transporters‚ vendors‚ and consumers—what they knew‚ and what was important to them. The results showed much room for improvement.

“We discovered that biosecurity practices were lacking at all levels of poultry operations‚” said Schneider. “Hand hygiene and cleaning practices were abysmal‚ and community veterinary officials to help farmers improve practices were scarce.”
To address the problems and help control the spread of avian influenza in the supply chain‚ AED created awareness campaigns using effective teaching materials‚ knowledgeable trainers‚ and local media.

In the end‚ AED’s avian influenza projects conducted more than 50 qualitative and quantitative studies in more than 25 countries‚ and researchers have made their methodologies and instruments available to other organizations to assist in their studies.

For more information and to access the research studies visit


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