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India to Claim Bird Flu-Free Status Next Month

India has complied with all protocols necessary for being notified bird flu-free, and hopes to receive the certification from OIE, the international animal health agency, on Aug 10, a senior official said here Friday.//

While the notification does not rule out a recurrence, the Animal Husbandry Department under the ministry of agriculture is hopeful that the surveillance and other preventive steps taken would prevent a repeat outbreak.

"As we have not had an avian flu outbreak after the outbreak in Jalgaon (in Maharashtra) for three months we will be in a position to claim disease free certificate on Aug 10. Our preparedness will always be there," Animal Husbandry Department Secretary P.M.A. Hakeem told the media at the conclusion of a two-day review meeting of Asian countries.

India is planning to put in place four more hi-tech animal disease-testing laboratories ahead of the next season for birds migration to prevent recurrence of avian flu, Hakeem said.

OIE regional representative for Asia and Pacific region Teruhide Fujita endorsed that India has been adhering to the protocol laid down by the global body ahead of and during the avian flu outbreak.

Post-outbreak too, India has taken adequate steps to contain the spread of the disease, officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stated.

Ministerial representatives from 13 countries including China, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, attended the first coordinated meet of animal husbandry and health ministers hosted by India and organised by global organisations WHO, FAO and OIE.

A Delhi Declaration adopted at the meeting said it was decided to develop a common framework under existing regional Asian forums like ASEAN and SAARC for better preparedness for pandemic threat and appropriate control measures.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said the disease-free notification wou ld help India in its poultry exports and improve the health of the poultry industry.

"The Indian industry has suffered huge losses. While the market has been practically restored with prices at normal levels, it will take one to two years for the industry to recoup losses," said Pawar.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the preparedness and surveillance mechanism put in place in India over one and a half years before the outbreak in February this year had helped to reduce the adverse impact and contained the disease to one region.

"It has been decided to coordinate and collaborate in research and development and exchange of information to improve the preparedness to combat possible pandemics," he said.

The health minister pointed out that while the global health organisations have projected a requirement of $882 million for reasonable level of preparedness, the current gap in fund mobilisation was 65 percent.

WHO Regional Director for the South-East Asia Region Samlee Plianbangchang said the H5N1 strain of avian flu virus had crossed over the species barriers and already infected humans in 10 countries. So far 231 human cases of avian influenza have been reported with 133 or over 50 percent of them being fatal cases.

On the avian flu vaccine developed by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) for an indigenous strain of the disease, Pawar said: "Prior to commercialisation of the vaccine in tie-up with some private company, we need to conduct more field trials. This may require two to three months."

Limited field trials conducted by a Bhopal-based high security lab under ICAR have shown encouraging results, the minister said.

(Source: IANS)

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