Israel, PA join forces to fight bird flu

Gaza outbreak could threaten Israel, but partnership unclear after Hamas win.

bird flu 88 (photo credit: )
bird flu 88
(photo credit: )
Tests are underway in Israel to determine whether samples of blood and saliva from livestock and dead wild fowls found in Gaza, received from Palestinian Authority officials, confirm fears of possible outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and bird flu in Gaza. If proven true, the situation could have fierce repercussions affecting finances and health, Israeli security officials warned, adding that outbreaks of either disease will not only jeopardize Palestinians in Gaza, but also the public in Israel. "It is in Israel's interest to ensure that agricultural standards in Gaza are maintained," Uri Madar, head of the agricultural division at the Erez District Coordinating Office told The Jerusalem Post, as he prepared to transport the samples and dead fowl to Israel's veterinary service laboratories in Beit Dagan. Security officials warned that once Hamas establishes the new Palestinian government, the possibility of maintaining such close coordination and contacts with Palestinians on such issues are doubtful. "If Israel's policy is to refrain from speaking with Hamas, then once the new Palestinian government is instated and new ministers take their posts, all contacts will be stopped," a security official said. On Wednesday morning, Palestinians notified Madar that 12 to 13 dead wild fowl were discovered in the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza, not far from the Egyptian border. Marda feared that the deaths could indicate an outbreak of bird flu and immediately asked his Palestinian counterparts to send the dead fowl for tests in Israel. "In the past 48 hours there have been a number of reports regarding outbreaks of bird flu in Egypt. Dr. Haimovitch the head of Israel's veterinary services immediately instructed that all eggs and livestock be barred from leaving Gaza, and that Israeli enhance supervision at the crossings," he said. Earlier reports of an outbreak of bird flu in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza proved to be false said Marda, after tests conducted by the Palestinians revealed that the cause of death was due to bad sanitary conditions, he said. At the beginning of the week, PA officials expressed fears of a possible outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, after a number of cows in Gaza herds were spotted with an unusual amount of saliva frothing from their mouth. While initial testing proved the fears unfounded, Israeli officials insisted that samples of blood and saliva taken from each of the cows be transferred to Israel for further testing, Marda said. At the same time, Israel beefed up its supervision at border crossings and instructed that all livestock from the Gaza Strip be barred from entering Israel and the West Bank, he said. Israel also informed the European Union officials posted at the joint headquarters at the Rafah crossing to prevent the entry of all livestock from Egypt into Gaza. Marda said he hoped that within the next 48 hours the test results would be received. Despite the security situation, cooperation and coordination with the Palestinians on such issues has been good, he said. "It is our job to separate between political and humanitarian issues and professional needs. We exchange information, and assist the Palestinians if problems arise and supply them with vaccines when needed," he said. In the future, if the government decides to halt all contacts with the PA, he has no recourse but to comply. "I am a government employee and will abide by all decisions issued by the top government echelon," said Marda. Asked to comment about how the Israeli health authorities will coordinate disease control with a Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority, Health Ministry associate director-general Dr. Boaz Lev said that the government's policy has always been to cooperate in the interests of preserving and promoting public health and continuing humanitarian activity, as diseases do not stop at political borders. He declined to comment on whether there have already been contacts between the ministry's public health professionals and Hamas representatives in the PA.