Turkey found itself in the last few weeks at the forefront of a battle with Bird Flu and its H51N virus. Turkey's unique geographical position as the gateway between Europe —Asia— Middle East and Africa made these cases more concerning. The country is also the crossroads of wild bird migration routes, and birds brought a deadly virus to the Anatolian peninsula, which has been their hub for thousands of years.
Turkey first faced the Bird Flu scare in October 2005 at Manyas, in Western Turkey, a popular watering zone for migrating birds. We were able to effectively contain and eradicate the virus in the area through the massive culling, effective quarantine measures and a dedicated public awareness campaign. In fact, the October scare was pacified with no loss of life.
However the virus, in a more concealed and hard-to-detect format, reemerged in Eastern Anatolia bordering Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia and took lives of four citizens, while five were treated and discharged from the hospital. 11 others are currently under treatment. The H51N has been detected in 13 cities and 24 localities in Turkey. Its rapid spread was attributed to many factors, and also raised some speculation about Turkey's ability to fight the bird flu.
Turkey's government would like to assure the world that no one should doubt our ability, willingness and determination to fight this virus.
The Turkish cases are still due to the virus jumping from sick birds to humans. There is no indication that the virus has mutated and it is not spreading from human to human.
The reason for Turkey's number of bird flu cases is not because Turkey is an unmanageable infection zone, but because Turkey is politically open and transparent. From day one, Prime Minister Erdogan has directed the government to fight openly against the Bird Flu and to set a global example. This was the right attitude for a European Union candidate country with a democratic, accountable and responsible government. If Turkey has any shortcomings, we are ready to tackle them.
From the start, we have opened all our doors, clinics, and data and made our experts available for full global coordination and cooperation. We are pleased at the positive response we have received from friendly governments around the world, our allies, and international organizations. Because of this openness, Turkey is praised by international health officials, the United Nations, the World Health Organization and other specialty agencies.
International experts are encouraged to visit Turkey to observe and, if possible, contribute to find a cure against H5N1. Increased number of fully recovered cases in Turkey may perhaps explain to us that the H5N1 is not as deadly as feared and that many patients are getting infected with much milder syndromes. We hope as a result of Turkey's transparency, scientists will be able to find faster and more effective measures against the virus.
Experts from the European Union, World Health Organization and other international health organizations now affirm that Turkey has done everything it should and there is an almost universal awareness of the disease and of the risk factors in the country. Many experts have indicated that it is safe to travel to Turkey. This awareness has been accompanied by behavioral changes that are expected to reduce opportunities for human infections to occur.
Turkey has so far culled millions of birds and all animal owners are properly compensated. Public information campaign is at full speed and our government is determined to effectively fight the virus in every corner of the country. As a result, the EU has re-started import of poultry from Turkey.
We are determined to contain and eradicate the virus in Turkey. It is our sincere wish that the worst pandemic fears will remain merely in contingency plans. Turkey is a bridge between the continents, the meeting point of cultures and a bridge for the harmony of civilizations. Leading a global fight against a deadly virus is yet another challenge for us and we are determined to meet the challenge.