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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06RIYADH2542
2006-04-09 13:43:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Riyadh
Cable title:  

Avian Flu: Saudi Arabia Closing Small Poultry

Tags:   TBIO  KFLU  EAGR  SA 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO7202
RR RUEHDE
DE RUEHRH #2542/01 0991343
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091343Z APR 06
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6057
INFO RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEHZM/GCC COLLECTIVE
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 2858
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 2168
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH 7066
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 2544
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0491
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 002542 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

LONDON FOR TSOU
PARIS FOR ZEYA
DEPT FOR OES/FHA, SES_O_CMS and NEA/ARPI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO KFLU EAGR SA
SUBJECT: Avian Flu: Saudi Arabia Closing Small Poultry
Farms, Slaughterhouses

REFTEL: A) 2005 RIYADH 7935, B) RIYADH 0389, C)

RIYADH 0522, D) RIYADH 1484, E) JEDDAH 267, F)
JEDDAH 212, G) 2005 Riyadh 8173



1. (U) Summary: Meetings with the WHO representative,
Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), and Ministry of Health
(MOH) revealed that the SAG has established necessary
preparations for avian flu, including action plans, an
emergency "hotline" number, monitoring and testing
sites for migratory birds, and establishment of an
inter-gevernmental agency avian flu committee. The WHO
representative in Saudi Arabia generally commended the
Saudi Government's contingency plans for an avian flu
outbreak, but said that an actual avian flu scenario
such as a minor outbreak in Saudi Arabia was necessary
to "tighten up" practical implementation of the plans.
The MOA is updating its action plan based on best
practices learned from other nearby countries with
avian flu, including Egypt. Saudi Arabia recently
added PCR testing capability in the MOA's Riyadh
central lab to enable in country H5N1 testing. The MOA
is also shutting down unlicensed poultry farms and
closing live slaughterhouses to lower the risk of
spreading a potential avian flu outbreak. End summary.



2. (U) Amman-based Regional Environment, S&T and
Health (ESTH) Officer and Riyadh Econoff discussed
avian flu with Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) General
Manager for Animal Resources, Dr. Mohammad Al-Ogaily,
on March 21 in Riyadh. ESTH officer and econoff also
met separately with the WHO representative, Dr. Awad
Mukhtar and discussed avian flu. Other health issues
reported septel.



--------------------------



--------------------------


Committee on Zoonotic Diseases Was Already in Place


--------------------------



--------------------------





3. (U) Dr. Al-Ogaily said that the SAG had an
interagency committee on zoonotic (passing from animals
to humans) diseases already in place prior to
development of concerns about avian flu. This
committee has taken on management of the SAG's planning
and preparation for avian flu.



4. (U) The MOA has a central lab in Riyadh and 5
regional labs around the country, including Jeddah and
Jizan, Al-Ogaily said, capable of testing for the
presence of the H5 virus. The central lab acquired the
capability of doing polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
testing only in February 2006. The lab in Jizan also
has PCR testing capability. The Ministry also produces
animal vaccines.



--------------------------



--------------------------


Contingency Plan Updated to Reflect Best Practices


--------------------------



--------------------------





5. (U) The MOA zoonotic committee has created a
contingency and management plan for containment of an
avian flu outbreak, which was summarized in Ref A. A
copy in Arabic is on the Ministry's website
(www.agrwat.gov.sa) and a version in English is on the
way, Al-Ogaily said. Dr. Al-Ogaily noted the immense
amount of interagency coordination needed in these
situations, adding that veterinary resources are
scattered between several different Saudi ministries.



6. (U) The MOA's plan has been updated to reflect new
information and lessons learned, such as how to best
manage the practicalities of culling birds following an
outbreak, from other countries, such as Egypt that have
experienced cases of avian flu.



--------------------------


Public Awareness Campaign, Hotline Ongoing


--------------------------




RIYADH 00002542 002 OF 003




7. (U) The MOA contingency plan includes a section on
raising public awareness of the disease and how to spot
its symptoms. Al-Ogaily said that public service
announcements and press stories are ongoing. The SAG
has opened an avian flu hotline that is staffed 24
hours a day. He said that there has been "some panic"
among the public about avian flu, reflected in phone
calls to the hotline. The SAG has also prepared and
distributed brochures both for the general public and
for farm workers about avian flu, he said.



--------------------------


Migration Routes a Special Concern


--------------------------





8. (SBU) Dr. Al-Ogaily noted Saudi Arabia's location
on migratory bird routes and said the SAG's avian flu
planning paid special attention to monitoring wild
birds along known migration routes. So far, he said,
all samples had been negative. When asked about the
results of the test for H5N1 on the falcons that were
destroyed in January (refs B,C, and D), Dr. Al-Ogaily
hid his face behind a sheaf of papers in mock
embarrassment and did not respond. (Embassy comment:
Al-Ogaily's chagrin was a response to econoff's
numerous unanswered inquiries to the MOA on the status
of the falcon cases. Although the MOA has been
identified as the lead Saudi agency on avian flu, the
MOA claimed it did not have the test results even weeks
after the samples were sent to the UK-based lab. The
Embassy eventually learned from other sources in and
out of the Saudi Government that the falcons had tested
negative for H5N1, but positive for the H9 strain.
Although ostensibly good news, the MOA may have been
hesitant to reveal the birds were not carrying the H5N1
and were put down "in error" to protect itself from
royal criticism -- the falcons at issue were expensive,
highly-prized possessions reportedly owned by members
of the royal family. End comment.)



--------------------------



--------------------------


70% of Poultry Production Comes from Two Companies


--------------------------



--------------------------





9. (U) Dr. Al-Ogaily described the Saudi poultry
industry as having two major players that account for
roughly 70% of Saudi poultry production, with roughly
400 other small, licensed farms providing the bulk of
the remaining production. He said there were perhaps
another 100 unlicensed poultry farms and that the SAG
is moving to close them down. Due to Saudi Arabia's
harsh climate, he said, nearly 90 percent of the
poultry farms are enclosed buildings that prohibit the
chickens from outdoor access, thus lowering the risk of
infection from wild birds. Most of the farms are in
the desert, away from the cities, he added. Saudi
Arabia imports day-old chicks from a number of
countries including Australia, Turkey and Syria, he
added, but all other imports of birds are banned.
Saudi Arabia also imports frozen chicken meat from
Brazil.



--------------------------


Reducing Proximity of Wild and Domestic Birds


--------------------------





10. (U) As part of the MOA's avian flu plan, Dr. Al-
Ogaily said that poultry farms had been ordered to fill
in lakes and ponds near their poultry houses, and to
cut down any trees on the farms. The purpose of these
measures was to reduce the number of wild birds
carrying H5N1 that might land at existing poulty farms.
Farms were also told to hire veterinarians to monitor
flocks and have those vets report weekly to the MOA on
the health of the flock. The MOA itself has also hired
veterinarians to randomly monitor poultry health, a
level of expertise the ministry did not have
previously.

RIYADH 00002542 003 OF 003





--------------------------

---
After August 2006, No Live Slaughtering of Birds


--------------------------

---



11. (U) SAG issued an edict four years ago that will
take final effect in August 2006 that prohibits live
slaughtering of birds at neighborhood butchers. (Ref
E) After that date, only frozen or chilled poultry, not
freshly slaughtered birds, can be sold to consumers.
Dr. Al-Ogaily noted a link between illegal farms and
small slaughterhouses, and surmised that banning small
slaughterhouses would result in fewer illegal farms.
The SAG has also issued regulations to minimize the
transportation of live birds around the country by
mandating that slaughtering must be done within the
same district that the bird was raised. Although this
took time to implement, Al-Ogaily said, results are now
good. As of August 2006, each poultry farm must have
its own slaughterhouse or a contract with a
slaughterhouse.



--------------------------


Clamping Down on Unlicensed Poultry Farms Too


--------------------------





12. (U) The SAG decreed six years ago, Al-Ogaily said,
that all unlicensed poultry farming should be
terminated. That edict is now being "activated," he
said, and all unlicensed farms will be gone in a few
months. Dr. Al-Ogaily had heard the stories (REF F) of
the chickens that escaped when bulldozers destroyed
coops before the chickens had been culled or relocated.
He put that story down as an exaggeration, that a few
chickens had escaped, which is understandable in an
operation with many birds, he said. He said that he
had received a letter from the Governor of the Jeddah
Governorate explaining the situation. He also noted
that the farmers were given ample warning and time for
them to fully raise and butcher all chickens prior to
the farm destruction as a "humanitarian measure."



--------------------------



--------------------------


WHO Rep Confirms Much of MOA's Report on Avian Flu


--------------------------



--------------------------





13. (SBU) In a separate meeting on March 21, World
Health Organization (WHO) Representative Dr. Awad
Mukhtar discussed the Saudi Government's avian flu
planning, including its interagency committee, which he
noted has revised the Saudi Government's contingency
plan several times. Dr. Mukhtar noted good cooperation
now between the WHO, the USG's NAMRU-3 medical lab in
Cairo, and the SAG, although the SAG was initially
reluctant to accept international guidance, he said.
Mukhtar said there had been Saudi workshops in Cairo
and in Jeddah in which NAMRU-3 had participated. He
also noted internal training programs by the SAG on
avian flu, including one presented by the National
Guard (Ref G). Dr. Mukhtar said that the SAG is
getting the message out to the public on avian flu, and
that there are high levels of public awareness. He
also believed that the SAG has a good human health
surveillance system, but that the country needs "a
wakeup call" in order to tighten up its avian flu plans
and systems before a major outbreak.