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Brussels, 24 January 2005

Commissioner Kyprianou visits Turkey to support efforts in tackling avian influenza

Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, will visit Turkey from 25-27 January, to reinforce EU solidarity with Turkey in its fight against avian influenza. Mr Kyprianou’s visit follows up on his constructive discussions with the Turkish Agriculture Minister Mr Mehmet Mehdi Eker, held during the international pledging conference in Beijing last week. During his time in Ankara, Mr Kyprianou will also meet Health Minister Recep Akdag, and the authorities responsible for dealing with the control of the outbreaks of avian influenza on the ground. The Commissioner will present an EU team of high-level veterinary experts who will provide support and advice on the control and eradication of the disease. Commissioner Olli Rehn and Commissioner Kyprianou are working together to prepare a Commission decision to urgently bring forward approximately 8 million euro in pre-accession funds for Turkey specifically to confront the current avian influenza situation.

Commissioner Kyprianou said, “It has been clear since the start of the outbreak of avian influenza in Turkey that if we are to effectively combat the disease and prevent its further spread in Europe, we need an “all hands on deck” approach. The Turkish authorities, the EU and our international partners all have a role to play in addressing this very difficult situation. As a candidate country to the EU, Turkey can particularly rely on the utmost cooperation and support from the EU, and I welcome this visit as an opportunity to strengthen collaboration between the EU and Turkey in tackling – and eradicating – avian influenza.”

Following his meeting with Minister Akdag, Commissioner Kyprianou will visit the Refik Saydam Hygiene Center (reference laboratory) and the Ministry of Health avian influenza Crisis Centre. This will be followed by a press briefing with the Minister at the Ministry of Health at 12:00. (A Blok 1.Kat No: 55 Sihhiye-Ankara) Commissioner Kyprianou and Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker will brief the press at 15:30 at the Ministry of Agriculture (Milli Müdafaa cad. NO: 20 Kizilay) after their meeting, ahead of a visit to the Etlik Veterinary Control and Research Institute.

Over the past month, 4 Turkish children have died and many citizens have become ill from what has been confirmed to be the same strain of the avian influenza virus as found in Asia. All cases resulted from close contact between the humans and infected birds. The Turkish authorities have also been battling against the spread of the Asian strain of the virus in poultry and wild birds across the country, but despite their best efforts, have not yet managed to contain the disease. The Commissioner will make the most of his visit to Turkey to examine the country’s requirements in terms of veterinary assistance and to consider what further measures could be taken to control the outbreaks of avian flu. He will stress the importance of eradicating the virus in birds as a means of protecting humans against infection from avian influenza, or from a potentially more dangerous mutant strain that could emerge.

As this is his first visit to Turkey, Mr Kyprianou will also take the opportunity to discuss and review the progress Turkey is making in meeting the EU food safety and veterinary acquis, in line with the EU accession process.

High level expertise

On the initiative of Commissioner Kyprianou, the Commission has assembled a team of high level veterinary experts to spend a week in Turkey providing assistance to the Turkish authorities in responding effectively to the current avian influenza outbreak. The team will be funded through TAIEX, the EU instrument set up to provide information exchange and technical assistance to accession countries. They will work in cooperation with the WHO led international team that is currently in place in Turkey. They will also continue the EU's on-going commitment to provide experts to support the Turkish authorities and other affected countries. Experts from the Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have been in Turkey since the first notification was made.
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