By Atom Markarian
The World Bank has approved a $6.25 million loan to Armenia designed to help its government guard against and, if necessary, cope with a possible outbreak of bird flu already registered in all of the four neighboring countries.
The Armenian authorities will also receive a $800,000 from the government of Japan for the same purpose, the bank said in a statement released by its Yerevan office on Monday.
“This project will assist the Government of Armenia in minimizing the threat posed to humans by avian influenza infection in domestic poultry and prepare for the control and response to an influenza pandemic and other infectious disease emergencies in humans,” the statement said. “Upon project completion, Armenia will achieve improved effectiveness of animal and public health services in limiting the spread of an avian influenza outbreak and a possible pandemic in the country,” it added.
The assistance was requested by the Armenian government more than four months ago, shortly after the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus killed four children in a village in eastern Turkey close to Armenia. The government scrambled to prevent a cross-border spread of the virus, heightening sanitary controls at the Armenian border crossings and conducting a mandatory vaccination of chickens and other fowl in villages close to the Turkish border.
The government also approved in January, apparently at the World Bank’s instruction, a comprehensive plan of action against bird flu. The plan called, among other things, for training of officials dealing with veterinary security and purchase of special laboratory equipment for quickly detecting the virus. It also contained guidelines on how to cull poultry and compensate farmers in case the H5N1 virus reaches Armenia
The funds promised by the World Bank and the Japanese government will support these measures. According to Artavazd Hakobian, a World Bank official in Yerevan, one third of them will be spent on prophylactic measures against the disease and equipment purchase. “Some laboratories in Yerevan and one in the regions will be upgraded in a way that will enable them to detect the bird flu virus,” he said.
Roger Robinson, the bank’s resident representative to Armenia, said that another $750,000 of the sum will be set aside for compensating low-income farmers in case of a mass cull of poultry ordered by the government.
Unlike in neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan, there have been no reported cases of bird flu in Armenia so far. Many feared that the virus could spread into the country with the start of the traditional spring migration of wild bird birds, its main carriers.