By Ruben Meloyan
The U.S. government on Friday provided Armenia with laboratory equipment and special vehicles which officials said will significantly improve veterinary authorities’ ability to guard against possible outbreaks of bird flu.
The $300,000 equipment, donated to the Armenian Agriculture Ministry’s Central Veterinary Laboratory, is part of a $2.6 million program implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The one-year aid scheme is aimed at helping Armenia cope with the potentially lethal H5N1 virus. In addition to equipment supplies, it envisages training of Armenian veterinary officials charged with monitoring and controlling the disease.
“As of today, Armenia has more capabilities [to deal with bird flu] that it had before,” the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Anthony Godfrey, said during an official ceremony.
“With this equipment we will be able to diagnose the existence of a bird flu virus in any place and help people guard against it,” agreed Agriculture Minister David Lokian, also present at the ceremony. “It will make us feel safer.”
The equipment transfer came just a week after the World Bank approved $2 million in similar assistance to Armenia. The sum will be released from a special fund set by eight donor agencies, including the European Union, to combat the worldwide spread of avian influenza. The World Bank had already disbursed a $6.25 million loan to Yerevan for the same purpose last July.
Armenia is the only country in the region that has not registered any cases of H5N1 so far. Neighboring Turkey reported last week another more such cases in eastern regions of the country that are not far from the Armenian border.
“I think it would be wrong to dismiss the danger of a bird flu outbreak [in Armenia],” Lokian said. “That danger is grave, seeing as the bird flu virus has already been detected in all of the neighboring states. So we must be ready to quickly detect and localize [a possible outbreak].”