Forum on the Potential Public Health Problem of Avian (“Bird”) Flu in Armenia

Yerevan – On Monday, February 20, 2006, AUA College of Health Sciences (CHS) held a Public Health Panel Forum titled “The potential Public Health problem of avian (“Bird”) flu in Armenia”.

Forum attendees included health and environmental NGOs, AUA alumni and students, AUA faculty, and the general public, as well as the media representatives. Over 140 people attended the event addressing this important topic.

Dr. Haroutune Armenian, President of the American University of Armenia and Dean of the College of Health Sciences, led the panel. The invited guests had 5-10 minutes for short presentations expressing their thoughts and comments on the issue of interest.

Quoting D.A. Henderson (a noted public health professional who led the smallpox eradication effort), Dr. Armenian emphasized that “international collaboration and cooperation is not an option for dealing with infectious diseases. It is a necessity if mankind is to survive.”

Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative and Head of WHO country office presented the global and local perspective on the problem of bird flu and WHO approaches. Ms. Hoff stated “Given that there has been no detection of H5N1 virus in Armenia, the focus must be on containment at the animal-human interface with contingency plans for protecting the high risk groups as well as managing and treating the patients.”

Photo-PH-ForumTwo representatives of the Ministry of Health, Lilit Avetisyan, Department of Hygiene and Epidemilogy and Ara Asoyan, Chief Infection Specialist talked about policy overview, surveillance and diagnostic methods in Armenia. Artashes Ziroyan, Head of the Department of Bioresource Management, Ministry of Nature Protection, described the bird flu preparedness efforts of the Armenian Government. Barsegh Barseghyan, Chief Veterinarian of the “Araks” poultry company presented the efforts of the company to keep their poultry safe. Anthony Godfrey, Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of the United States of America in Armenia talked about the role of governments in bird flu related efforts and the US assistance being provided to support avian influenza preparedness efforts in Armenia.

Karen Aghababyan, Ornithologist and Senior Researcher, AUA Birds of Armenia project, talked about the risk posed by wild birds: “Most of the known carriers of Avian Flu are plant-eating Water Birds, particularly Ducks, Geese and Swans. To avoid avian flu it is very important to isolate poultry, avoiding possible contact with wild Water Birds. It should include thorough education of local inhabitants that will also prevent panic among people. The mass shooting of wild birds is much more dangerous for humans as it will result in lots of dead birds in the fields. Crows can eat dead birds and quickly bring avian flu into towns and villages. We would suggest taking measures for poultry preservation and education of inhabitants.”

From left to right- Elizabeth Hoff (WHO Representative); Lilit Avetisyan (RA Ministry of Health); Karen Aghababyan(Ornithologist and Senior Researcher, AUA, Birds of Armenia project); Artashes Ziroyan (Head of the Department of Bioresource Management); Barsegh Barseghyan, (Chief Veterinarian of the “Araks” poultry company); Anthony Godfrey (Embassy of the United States); Dr. Haroutune Armenian (AUA President).