Bird Flu Measures in Place

by Faleh Al-Thibyani, The Saudi Gazette, Sunday, 25 November 2007

RIYADH – Measures will be in place to prevent an outbreak of avian flu in Makkah and Madina during the upcoming Haj season, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said.
Pilgrims coming from the Central Region, where the disease broke out last week, will undergo stringent medical checks, the spokesperson said.

Health Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Manie is due to attend a meeting of the Haj Preparation Committee in this regard Sunday.

Minister of Agriculture Dr. Fahd Balghunaim, meanwhile, said the public would be promptly informed about ongoing efforts to prevent the disease from spreading further.

So far, 3.5 million chickens and other birds have been culled since the disease was detected at a farm in Al-Kharj, and the ministry would not hesitate to eliminate all chickens in the Kingdom in order to protect its citizens and residents, Dr. Balghunaim said.

He said the reason behind the outbreak could be the high season for migratory birds from up north seeking warmer climes in places like Saudi Arabia.

He said the ministry has adopted an integrated plan to step up preventive measures at poultry farms against contact with migratory birds that may be carriers of avian flu.

The Agriculture ministry has no precise figure about financial losses incurred by farm owners as a result of the culling and disinfection operations, but the minister said they would be compensated up to 85 percent of the amount.

Speaking to Okaz, Dr. Balghunaim denied accusations that the ministry had delayed announcing the outbreak. He said the ministry moved the same day to Kharj and took a sample from the suspected bird and the result the very next day showed that the bird was H5N1 positive, immediately after which the culling began.

He said he visited the farm last Tuesday morning and on Wednesday the ministry announced the outbreak of the epidemic.

In Qassim, however, poultry traders are trying to beat a Buraidah Municipality ban on bird sale at the central market by taking their stocks to neighboring districts.

The market last Thursday banned entry of trucks loaded with live birds. However, the poultry sellers took their ware to the side streets and efforts by the authorities to break up the large crowds of sellers and buyers failed.

With additional reporting by Bandar Al-Omar