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Ukraine: Emergency Declared In Crimea Following Bird-Flu Outbreak

Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry culling poultry on 4 December (epa) Ukraine's parliament today approved President Viktor Yushchenko's proposal to declare a state of emergency in three regions of the Crimean Peninsula following an outbreak of bird flu. Yushchenko has toured the affected region and said the outbreak was the result of a "miscalculation" by veterinary authorities. The president promised to take all possible measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus. More than 2,000 domestic birds are estimated to have been killed by the virus, and authorities have killed an additional 22,000 domestic birds following searches of houses in the area. However, no human infections have been recorded in the country.

Prague, 6 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said that "radical measures" are being taken to contain the bird-flu outbreak in the country.

Ukraine officially recorded its first case of bird flu on 3 December. Six villages -- home to some 6,969 people -- located in the marshlands near the country's southeastern Sivash Bay have been affected.

The reaction since the official announcement was swift. Nineteen medical teams were dispatched to the villages, and some 901 people -- including 150 children --who may have handled sick birds are under medical observation.

However, local residents say that birds began dying in September and that much more could have been done to prevent an outbreak. Ukrainian officials have acknowledged that in October they began recording large numbers of dead birds near Sivash Bay -- a popular stopover for birds migrating between Russia and Africa or the Middle East.

The government has promised to compensate for losses, but farmers whose poultry have died say it is too little. Oleg Putrin, a resident of the village of Nekrasovka, told Reuters news agency that the money ($2 per chicken and $4 per goose) would not cover his losses.

"What they are paying us [for the birds] is a joke. I can't buy any bird for that money. Not even talking about the bird feed I wasted," Putrin said. "They had to do it a month ago. But they [veterinarians] first came and said that birds were dying because they had eaten something bad. Then they suggested something else. If they had just started to take this measures in time, it would have helped."

Yushchenko apparently addressed concerns over the response of the regional veterinary services by firing the country's chief veterinary inspector, Petro Verbytskyy.
Local residents say that birds began dying in September and that much more could have been done to prevent an outbreak.

The president also sought to reassure the Ukrainian population yesterday by outlining the steps the country has taken to stem the outbreak.

"Today, the issue is absolutely under control," Yushchenko said. "The birds are being destroyed and by 12 December all residents, first of all children, will be vaccinated. Therefore, we can say that Ukraine has dealt with this problem in a very organized way."

Yuriy Yakymenko, director of political and legal programs at the Oleskandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kyiv, says the immediate response to the outbreak has been satisfactory.

"I think the reaction of the Ukrainian president and the Ukrainian government to the situation on the whole was adequate to its gravity," Yakymenko said. "It also includes the declaration of a state of emergency, which still needs to be approved by the parliament. However it should be said that the president's decision to remove the head of the [State] Veterinary Service indicates that the measures taken were not enough."

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Oleksander Baranivskyy has described the virus found in the Crimea as "highly pathogenic."

Many things remain unknown. A special adviser to the head of the World Organization for Animal Health, Alex Theirmann, told RFE/RL that tests are being conducted on to determine the exact strain of virus that is killing the birds in Ukraine.

"It [a sample of the flu strain found in Ukraine] has been sent to the research laboratory just to confirm and make sure that we're dealing with the virus that we thought we had in the neighboring countries, meaning H5N1," Theirmann said. "The additional tests are being conducted and then it will be confirmed. It is very likely that it is H5N1 because it has been found in neighboring countries, but we have to characterize every isolate [isolated strain] and make sure we know what we are dealing with and also make sure that we know whether the virus is changing or not."

H5N1 is a type of bird flu that has mutated and has killed at least 68 people since it emerged in Asia in 2003. The deadly H5N1 strain has been recorded in birds in Romania, Turkey, Croatia, and Russia.

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivskyy has described the virus found in the Crimea as "highly pathogenic." He said birds were dying after being exposed to the flu for no more than two to eight hours.

Researchers in Britain and Italy are expected to announce the results of the tests by 8 December.

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