W.Bank body, NGO to fight bird flu in Bangladesh

DHAKA, July 2 (Reuters) - A World Bank subsidiary and a leading Bangladeshi NGO have formed an alliance to battle bird flu, which has spread to dozens of farms since March.

There have been no known cases in Bangladesh of people being infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus.

But the poultry industry, the country"e;s fastest-growing livestock sector, employs millions people and better education was a key focus of the project.

The objective was to help small farmers implement health measures that would improve farming practices and productivity, reduce costs and increase income, said a statement from the IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group.

The project involves an IFC advisory body called the SouthAsia Enterprise Development Facility (SEDF) and the group BRAC.

The statement, issued late on Sunday, said the project would raise awareness among more than 10,000 small poultry farmers and retailers.

"IFC has global experience dealing with the avian influenza. We are using our expertise and BRAC"e;s experience and outreach in the sector to help protect farmers, small and medium enterprises, and other stakeholders," said Deepak Adhikary, deputy general manager of IFC-SEDF.

Bird flu has spread to 51 farms in 16 districts, forcing authorities to cull nearly 255,000 chickens, according to figures from the fisheries and livestock ministry.

About 5 million people are dependent on the poultry industry.

Bird flu has killed 191 people worldwide since late 2003 and scientists fear the H5N1 virus could mutate in a form that easily passes between people, triggering a pandemic.

In total, 317 people are known to have been infected globally and contact with sick or dead poultry has been the common link in most cases.