Afghanistan to start bird flu cull on Wednesday
Kabul, March 20, 2006 (Reuters) - Afghanistan hopes to begin culling chickens in areas infected by the H5N1 bird flu virus on Wednesday after the U.S. military supplied some protective suits for workers, an Agriculture Ministry official said.
The H5N1 virus was confirmed in two provinces last week and it has assumed to have spread to at least three others, officials said.
"The day after tomorrow we will start the depopulation of affected areas," Azizullah Osmani, chief of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary department told Reuters.
Tests at a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) laboratory in Italy confirmed H5N1 had been found in the capital, Kabul, and the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The H5 subtype of bird flu had also been found in dead birds in Laghman province east of Kabul, Wardak to the west and in Kunar province, on the eastern border with Pakistan, Osmani said.
While tests had yet to determine if the strain in those three provinces was H5N1, experts were working on the assumption that it was, said a spokesman for the FAO.
Bird flu has killed about 100 people since late 2003, most of them in Asia. Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans and trigger a pandemic that could kill millions.
There have been no human cases in Afghanistan but there is concern that with veterinary and health sectors still recovering from decades of conflict, the country could struggle to contain an outbreak.
Osmani said he was speaking by mobile telephone from a district to the west of Kabul where H5N1 had been confirmed, to explain Wednesday's cull, which is due to begin there, to village elders and municipal authorities.
He said the U.S. military in Afghanistan had provided 50 protective suits for cull workers.
A U.N. spokesman stressed the importance of quick action to contain the disease.
"It's clearly important to see action rather than just statements on this and we look forward to see what the government is coming up with," said the spokesman, Adrian Edwards.
"The imperative here is speed," he said.
Afghan and U.N. officials have stressed the importance of giving farmers compensation for their culled birds.
Afghanistan's poultry industry was decimated by several years of drought up to 2005 and is small-scale with only an estimated 12 million chickens in the country, another Afghan official said.