Sri Lanka 'at high risk for bird flu'

Sri Lankan health officials said today that the country is at high risk for a bird flu outbreak and falls short on resources aimed at prevention.

“The risk is high,” said S.K.R Amarasekara, the chief of Sri Lanka’s Animal Production and Health Department.

He attributed the risk mainly to migratory birds from the west coast of India, where the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus was found in dead chickens, low “bio-security” in local poultry farms and a significant movement of passenger traffic between Sri Lanka and India.

“If we have to be fully prepared, we need all the resources which we are lacking at the moment,” Amarasekara said.

He added that the country needs a fully equipped diagnostic laboratory, testing kits, protective equipment, and funds to educate people and compensate farmers if a need arises for culling.

“We are now sensitising the government and international organisations on the need to provide more resources to us to counter any possible outbreak,” Amarasekara said.

Sri Lanka, an island nation of 19 million people separated from India by a narrow sea strip, has so far reported no cases of bird flu.

The disease has ravaged the western Indian state of Maharashtra, where more than 200,000 chickens were culled after the H5N1 strain of bird flu was found in some of 30,000 dead chickens.

Bird flu has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 91 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation. Most human cases of the disease have been linked to contact with infected birds.

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