The World Bank has granted a credit of 5.1 million dollars, repayable over 35 years, to Azerbaijan in its fight against bird flu. Further help is expected from the World Bank for this Caspian Sea state, which lies on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, especially in its agricultural sector and its health care systems.
Earlier this month five people died from the first human cases of the deadly bird flu virus, in Azerbaijan. The victims included four females from ages 17 to 21 and a 16-year-old boy. Public health officials opine that these victims must have fallen ill while plucking feathers from wild swans, which may have been infected with the H5N1 strain of the deadly virus. These feathers are usually used in pillows.
Although WHO had flown in a team of seven experts when the cases were first reported, it plans to scale down its presence as no further cases have been reported since then. This could probably be attributed to the wild birds flying out of the Azerbaijan territory, thus reducing the spread of the virus.
The victims were mainly from Salyan region, in southern Azerbaijan, and the Tarter region in the western Azerbaijan. A village in the Agdam region remains under quarantine after report of cases of bird flu among domestic poultry.
Azerbaijan is predominantly a Muslim state with a population of about eight million, bordering Turkey, Russia and Iran. Its Union of Poultry Farmers had reported a market slump of about 50 to 60 percent of poultry products since February.
According to WHO figures the avian influenza virus has killed 105 people in eight countries since it re-emerged in late 2003.
Health experts report that the bird flu virus can mutate to a state where it could be passed easily from one person to another triggering a pandemic where millions could die.