UN Agencies Fight Avian Influenza outbreak in Azerbaijan
BAKU, 22 March 2006 - With the presence the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus among humans officially confirmed in Azerbaijan, UN agencies are intensifying their efforts to support the Government in containing the outbreak and ensuring that the population know how to protect themselves from the virus.
The WHO reference laboratory in the UK has confirmed 7 cases H5N1 positive, including five deaths. Six of the cases occurred in the Salyan Rayon in the south-eastern part of the country. All these cases lived together or near each other. The seventh case occurred in a 21-year-old woman from the western rayon of Terter. She died on 9 March.
“The confirmation from London does not come as a surprise. We knew the virus is in the country in wild birds and commercial poultry farms and people could have been infected”, says Haana Singer, UNICEF representative in Azerbaijan and UN coordinator for avian influenza. “It is key now to understand the source of exposure, which is critical to controlling the outbreak and we need the collaboration of the whole community to do so”.
The source of infection is presently under investigation. It is possible that there was a common source of exposure to domestic or wild birds. In Salyan, for instance, the carcasses of wild swans that died several weeks ago but were not buried may have been collected by residents as a source of feathers. Infection was observed in a specific age and sex group, which suggests a common behaviour as a likely route of contamination.
“It is critical to reduce the risk of exposure to prevent new cases”, says Dr.Pavel Ursu, Head of WHO Country Office in Azerbaijan “The population, especially in the affected areas, should use simple measures to protect their health and that of their family members”. In particular:
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WHO is working with the Ministry of Health to ensure the necessary capacities to handle human cases. This includes improving surveillance and monitoring for additional cases in affected areas, clinical management and infection control, epidemiological investigation to find the source of infection.
FAO is focusing on strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture, Dept of Veterinary Services, to handle the outbreak among birds. A proposal to field an FAO team of epidemiologist, lab specialist, communication specialist and graphic designer has been made and agreed with the government.
UNICEF is working closely with government, international organizations and other partners to ensure that families have the knowledge they need to protect themselves and their birds from avian influenza and to be ready to respond to the emergence of a pandemic. UNICEF has developed information materials with the Ministries of Health, Education and Agriculture and is supporting NGO networks to deliver critical life-saving messages. The agency is also coordinating the UN response on behalf of the Resident Coordinator.
WFP will also assist in distributing essential information on AVI prevention to IDPs communities.