Bird Flu

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World Bank To Help Armenia Ward Off Bird Flu

By Emil Danielyan and Astghik Bedevian
RFE/RL Armenia Report - 01/18/2005

The World Bank is considering providing financial assistance to Armenia as part of its unfolding efforts to prevent a worldwide spread of bird flu, the spokesman for its Yerevan office said on Wednesday.

Vigen Sargsian told RFE/RL that the World Bank is currently discussing with the Armenian government the possibility of allocating up to $5 million in loans and grants that would significantly expand emergency measures aimed at preventing a spread of the deadly virus from neighboring Turkey. `The discussions are still in the preliminary stages,' Sargsian said, adding that the government has yet to file a formal aid application.

The bank's Washington-based Board of Directors set aside $500 million last week to help to prevent a global bird flu pandemic. Turkey, which has already been hit hard by the H5N1 virus, is expected to receive $30 million under the program. Authorities there announced Tuesday that another child was diagnosed with bird flu, raising to 21 the number of human cases in the country, including four children already dead and a boy in worsening health. The deaths occurred in rural areas close to the Armenian border.

The Armenian government has so far earmarked only 50 million drams ($110,000) for its preventive measures. The bulk of the money is to be spent on the vaccination of all children and chickens in villages located along Armenia's closed frontier with Turkey.

Residents of some of those villages told RFE/RL on Tuesday that the process is already in progress. Officials there admitted that the vaccines injected into domestic birds free of charge are designed to neutralize conventional and less dangerous chicken diseases other than bird flu. But they said the drugs are still useful as they strengthen humans' and chickens' immunity to the virus.

`People are not panicking and understand all the measures taken by the authorities,' said Ashot Terterian, mayor of Lusarat, a village less than one kilometer from the Turkish border. `Our vet has visited almost every house to conduct explanatory work.'

`All of my chickens have been injected with drugs provided by the village administration,' said a woman in the neighboring Yeghegnavan village.

Local officials and ordinary residents also said there have been virtually no chicken deaths in the area since the outbreak of the disease in Turkey. Many also said they continue to eat poultry despite the risks involved. `What should we be afraid of? Our chickens are healthy,' said another Yeghegnavan farmer.

`We keep eating our chickens,' said a young man in another local village, Noyakert. `I have more than a dozen chickens. The vet brought drugs the other day and we injected it. Nothing has happened yet.'

U.S. To Help Armenia Combat Bird Flu

By Anna Saghabalian

U.S. diplomats and medical experts pledged to help Armenia guard against bird flu on Wednesday as they were briefed on its government's efforts to prevent a spread of the deadly virus from Turkey during a one-day visit to Yerevan.

The visiting officials were part of a special task force made up of representatives of several U.S. government agencies, including the departments of agriculture and health. It was formed recently to assess the risk of a serious bird flu outbreak in the region and has already visited Turkey and some of the neighboring nations.

Washington pledged last week to spend $334 million on preventing a global pandemic. The 12 members of its fact-finding delegation, most of them epidemiologists and veterinary experts, held separate meetings with officials from various Armenian government agencies dealing with the problem.

`The United States is committed to assisting Armenia, and just as a result of today's discussions, some immediate steps will be taken,' Ann Derse, a senior State Department official leading the team, told a news conference. `Protecting the health of the workers who deal with the disease both in the animal and human realm is critical. In this connection, the U.S. will be sending to Armenia within 10 days or so 1,500 kits of personal protective equipment.'

Derse said the Armenian authorities will also be supplied with chemical substances used for detecting the H5N1 virus that has killed four people in areas in eastern Turkey close to the Armenian border. In addition, she said, a U.S. expert will visit Yerevan next month to `assist in reviewing the preparedness and response plan of Armenia.'

The Armenian government approved such a plan last week, paving the way for the release of $4 million worth of assistance promised by the World Bank. It envisages, among other things, instructions on how to cull poultry in cases of emergency, training of officials in charge of veterinary security and purchase of special laboratory equipment for quickly detecting the virus.

The government heightened sanitary controls at Armenia's border crossings and ordered a mandatory vaccination of chickens and other fowl in villages close to the Turkish border following the recent outbreak of bird flu in Turkey. It also banned hunting for wild birds that are believed to be the main carriers of the virus.

`Cases have not been found in Armenia yet, to my understanding,' said Derse. `But the important point is that we want to be actively monitoring and surveilling and preparing to respond if they do. We are delivering the same message to every country in the world.'

Derse also said the U.S. officials were `impressed with the efforts of the Turkish government' to tackle the oubtreak of the virus. `There are good lessons to be learned and good experiences to be shared,' she said. `I hope all countries in the region will consult with each other and learn from each other.'

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic relations, making any joint action against the problem practically impossible. The Armenian Foreign Ministry says it sent a diplomatic note to Ankara asking for detailed information about the outbreak earlier this month but has still not received a response.

(Photolur photo: Ann Derse and U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans pictured during the news conference.)

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 01/25/2006