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Government Approves Action Plan Against Bird Flu

By Atom Markarian

The Armenian government pledged to step up its efforts to prevent a spread of bird flu from neighboring Turkey on Thursday, approving a comprehensive plan of actions which will require considerable external funding.

Officials admitted that with its “national program of countering the disease” the government hopes to secure financial assistance from the World Bank and possibly other Western donors. A statement by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s office said its adoption was suggested by the bank’s experts. All relevant government agencies in Yerevan and outside it have been instructed to study and implement the program, it said.

According to Agriculture Minister David Lokian, the document contains a long list of measures, ranging from changes in some laws to guidelines on how to cull poultry and compensate farmers in case the H5N1 virus reaches Armenia. He said it also envisages training of officials dealing with veterinary security and purchase of special laboratory equipment for quickly detecting the virus.

“The adoption of the national program is connected with the issue of receiving a loan and a grant from the World Bank,” Lokian told a news conference. “The World Bank has offered Armenia’s Finance Ministry $4 million to begin with. The Finance Ministry has already responded that there is a need for that [money] and asked that it be given in the form of a grant,”

A World Bank spokesman told RFE/RL on Wednesday that the Washington-based lending institution is ready to disburse up to $5 million in loans and grants to help Armenia guard against bird flu which has already killed three children less than 60 kilometers from its closed border with Turkey.

The Armenian government already took preventive measures immediately after the outbreak of bird flu in eastern Turkey earlier this month. Those include heightened sanitary controls at the country’s border crossings and a vaccination of chickens and other fowl in villages close to the Turkish border. Lokian said 80 percent of the local poultry have already been injected with prophylactic drugs.

He also reiterated government assurances that no cases of bird flu have been registered in Armenia so far. “The fact is that the disease is non-existent in the country,” he said. “No government official, doctor of veterinary specialist in Armenia can hide the existence of bird flu because they would be held accountable for that in accordance with the law.”

Lokian further lamented “serious” losses incurred by Armenian poultry firms as a result of a slump in public consumption of chicken meat and eggs. Those companies insist that their poultry factories are in strict quarantine and their products therefore pose no health risks to consumers. Many Armenians, however, prefer not to take any chances.

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