Gaza to step up bird culling to combat H5N1 spread
JERUSALEM, Apr 5 (Reuters) United Nations health officials said today that another 250,000 birds in Gaza would be killed in the coming days in a bid to halt the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus.
Ambrogio Manenti, head of the World Health Organisation's office for the Palestinian territories, said the Palestinian Authority lacked adequate supplies of Tamiflu, a medication regarded as the best defence against bird flu.
He told a news conference in Jerusalem the bird flu outbreak could have serious health consequences for Gazans because chicken is, for most, the main source of animal protein.
Many Gazans have stopped eating chicken in response to the outbreak, although there is no evidence of a risk of infection as long as the poultry is well-cooked.
The main commercial crossing into Gaza has frequently been closed by Israel, and the UN has warned of food shortages.
UN officials said they were particularly concerned about an outbreak in Gaza because it is so densely populated.
Avian flu was initially detected at two chicken farms in Gaza last month. Since then, three other Gaza farms have been reported to be infected with H5N1.
Some 250,000 birds have been culled so far, approximately 10 percent of the total in flocks in Gaza, said Luigi Damiani, project manager for the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Damiani said another 250,000 birds would be culled in the coming days.
The UN said Israeli agriculture officials have been assisting their Palestinian counterparts by providing them with protective equipment as well as with 300 doses of Tamiflu.
But Manenti said at least a few thousand doses were needed.
''It's quite an urgent requirement,'' he said.
The swearing-in of a Hamas-led government last week has cast doubt on future contacts between Israeli and Palestinian officials. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israeli officials would not be permitted to have contacts with Palestinians who work for Hamas-led ministries.
Regev said Israeli coordination with the Palestinians on a wide range of issues, including combating bird flu, would be conducted through UN agencies and non-governmental organisations.
But so far, direct Israeli and Palestinian contacts have continued on bird flu. UN officials said a meeting on the virus would be held in Jerusalem on Wednesday, bringing together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian officials.
Israel has also been culling chickens and turkeys after an outbreak of the H5N1 virus at farms in the Jewish state.
Bird flu can infect people who come into close contact with infected poultry and has killed about 100 people since late 2003.
Experts fear the virus will mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die and which could cripple the global economy.
There have been no confirmed cases of the virus infecting humans in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, or Israel.
REUTERS CH RK1900