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What UAE's doing to keep you safe from bird flu

posted on 18/02/2006: 1392 views



Between panic and peace lies a big question. Will avian influenza, or bird flu as it is more commonly known, get me? It's a valid question considering the fact that the H5N1 strain has been detected in country after country, the latest being neighbouring Iraq.



So what of the UAE which lies in the path of migratory birds? There have been no cases so far and the Secretariat of the National Committee for Emergency Response to Bird Flu intends to keep it that way. The Abu Dhabi Executive Council has already approved more than Dh39 million to tackle the potential pandemic, with local and federal governments chipping in with funds.



The national committee, headed by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, has drawn up a contingency plan that has been praised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).



And now the committee - comprising representatives from the Interior and Health ministries, the armed forces, municipalities, customs, environment agencies and other departments - is revising the plan to highlight each party's role during the various phases of implementation.



Majid Al Mansouri, spokesman of the committee and Secretary General of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), said: "There is no need for additional precautionary measures. When we worked out the plan, we based it on an epidemic situation."



Similar sentiments have been expressed by the FAO's country representative, Dr Kayan Jaff, who said his organisation had reviewed the plan thoroughly and found it conforming to international standards. "The UAE has done a good job and we are satisfied with it," Dr Jaff said.

The secretariat, meanwhile, has started a campaign, distributing awareness material to the government and private sectors, as well as poultry farmers, veterinarians, pet shop owners, personnel at entry points and the public.



Soon, it will organise emergency drills to test the country's preparedness. There will be a series of exercises, beginning with desk drills to nationwide practical demonstrations.

The plan includes full mobilisation of the army and police personnel. It will also deploy helicopters if the need arises. The committee has also ordered two mobile incinerators at Dh2.5 million to serve all the emirates.

As part of the long-term term measures, the committee has sought a ministerial decision that will allow parties concerned to intervene in case the virus spreads. It has also sought incentives and compensation for those working to combat infectious diseases and in emergency cases.



The action plan also outlines immediate or emergency response measures and activities which will continue even after the main threat is over. The plan looks at the short term, the long-term and the benefits.



The short-term programme includes emergency human health response, disease surveillance and investigation, wild bird monitoring and spreading awareness. The long-term programme includes a Centre for Infectious Diseases, development of a disease information system and system for surveillance.



The committee has suggested that the UAE Armed Forces' main chemical laboratory and Sharjah Municipality's laboratory could be the main laboratories during a crisis.



Schools found in the infected areas will be used as quarantine areas so that infected people will not have to be transported through heavily populated areas. The Ministry of Education has already been asked to identify these schools.



Each emirate will have a main Emergency Crisis Operations Room in addition to a similar room already operating at the secretariat.



Several committees and operations rooms have been established to receive information on suspected cases of the avian virus and act swiftly.



An alert system, which will react to suspected cases, has been set up at the secretariat with systems used worldwide in the wake of threats from terrorism, disease outbreaks and predictable natural disasters.



Under the plan, if a positive case of the virus is discovered, the area within a 10km radius will be declared an Infected Zone, which will be effective for at least 30 days after preliminary disinfection and cleaning.



All the infected birds in the zone will be culled, and unaffected stock will be vaccinated. Human safety measures will be given top priority.



In every case, an area with a radius of 10km outside an Infected Zone will be declared a Surveillance Zone, where inspection, surveillance, screening and safety measures will be carried out. Disposal of carcasses and poultry products such as eggs and manure will be immediately incinerated according to internationally accepted norms.



The secretariat has established several quarantine centres for birds. They include nine in Abu Dhabi - four at Abu Dhabi International Airport, two at the Ghuwaifat border post, two in Suweihan and another in Al Khatam, which is a temporary centre. All these centres in Abu Dhabi and other emirates, including airports and the Saudi border, are operational.



Each centre has been receiving 14 birds a week on an average. Samples are taken from the birds, which are then quarantined for 21 days until the results are out. Once the results are found to be negative, the birds are returned to the owners.



Birds quarantined include falcons and houbara bustards, which were found healthy. Around 63,338 wild birds of different species have been recorded under the action plan throughout the country, and not a single was infected with the avian virus. (Gulf News Tabloid)

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