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Homeland Security

KAZAKHSTAN: Preparing for bird flu threat

ALMATY, 23 February 2007 (IRIN) - Kazakhstan is implementing measures to combat avian influenza as the spring migratory season looms, threatening to spread the disease as birds fly north after the winter, the government says.

“The government has adopted a programme for the prevention of the spread of avian flu in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2007-2008, and a plan of operational measures to combat avian flu,” Anatoliy Belonog, Kazakhstan’s chief epidemiological official and deputy health minister, told IRIN from the capital, Astana.

Kazakhstan has set up special laboratories to diagnose avian flu and bought antiviral drugs to deal with a possible outbreak among humans. Bird flu could affect up to one million out of a population of 15 million.

“For a detailed study of avian influenza viruses among humans, two reference laboratories have been set up to diagnose avian flu … A strategic supply of the antiviral medicine Tamiflu for 30,000 patients has been set up in each region,” Belonog said. Tamiflu is one of two drugs identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) that may improve survival prospects for humans infected with bird flu.

The government is also seeking to educate the public about the dangers of close contact with dead or infected birds as the main source of human infection.

The European Commission (EC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) this month announced funding for a public-awareness campaign to change behaviour among risk groups, with US$315,000 from the EC – which has given a total of $6.6 million to fight bird flu in Central Asia – and $80,000 from UNICEF.

Adriaan van der Meer, head of the EC delegation to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, told IRIN that the aim of the programme for Kazakhstan was to improve public information about the disease.

“This means, for example how to recognise the disease and what to do in case of an outbreak. It also shows which preventive measures to take,” Van der Meer said.

The programme, to be implemented with the government, will target farmers, and focus on areas used by migratory birds, he added.

The country faced its worst bird flu outbreak in July 2005, with cases diagnosed among poultry in five northern regions near the Russian border.

In 2006, the H5N1 strain of bird flu was discovered in a dead swan on the Caspian Sea coast in western Kazakhstan, after which mass vaccination of domestic poultry was ordered. The swan was found in Mangystau Region, 2,000km away from the 2005 outbreak, highlighting the geographical spread of the disease and the danger posed by migratory birds.

WHO considers the H5N1 virus of great concern to humans because of the high fatality rate – of the 274 cases reported to date, 167 (or 60 percent) have been fatal.




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