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260 chickens, ducks die of suspected avian flu

7:00 PM

KINSHASA, 17 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Agricultural officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have recorded at least 260 chickens and ducks suspected of having died of the avian flu, Agriculture Minister Constant Ndom Nda said on Thursday.

Announcing this at a news conference in the capital, Kinshasa, he made a public appeal to the United Nations for help to face the danger, and for the rehabilitation of veterinary laboratories in Kinshasa and the southern city of Lumbumbashi.

"We have passed Phase Four, and are no longer simply limited to mobilisation but to active intervention on the ground because we are now perhaps living in danger," he said.

The permanent secretary at the ministry, Ali Ramazani, said it only learnt about the birds on Thursday, which actually died three or four days ago. He said 100 of them died in a single day in Tshikapa, a town in the south-central province of Kasai Occidental. He said the dead birds presented a danger to public health because tests had not been conducted.

"The problem is that most of the dead chicken and ducks in Tshikapa have been eaten," Ramazani said.

There were migratory birds among the dead. Samples of six dead pigeons, also found in Kinshasa, have been sent to South Africa for laboratory analysis. A cat, which ate one of the dead pigeons, also died.

Congo has taken several measures in response to the appearance of the virus in Africa; first in Nigeria and then in Cameroon. All imports of eggs from countries that have reported the avian flu have been banned.

On Monday, Congolese authorities said they had quarantined a ship carrying poultry products imported from Belgium, Germany and Poland. In February, the Congo set up a National Crisis Committee, and opened similar offices in each of the country's 11 provinces.

At the national level, the committee comprises official from the ministries of health, of agriculture, of external trade and of the environment associated with UN humanitarian bodies and NGOs. The committees at the provincial level are charged with surveillance and public information campaigns on the virus.

Poultry imports account for 90 percent of Congo's supplies in the commodity. The remaining 10 percent, or some 20 million free-range poultry, are reared in the country.

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