Rentokil gets extermination contract in Libya

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The Independent Online

Pest control firm Rentokil Initial said today that it had won a £24 million rat extermination contract from Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The former pariah state turned to Rentokil over fears that infestations in the country's major cities could expose the population to diseases such as salmonella typherium, eosinophilic meningitis and rat bite fever.

A team of 32 specialists have already been deployed to Libya as part of the three-year deal and Rentokil said their early involvement had been met with enthusiasm from local people, eager to rid their cities of pests.

Richard Jones, the firm's manager in Libya, said the rat infestation was "beginning to have an impact on public health".

"It's been great to see how enthusiastic the public are," he said.

"They are obviously keen to remedy the pest problem, and are eager to help."

Rentokil is also hoping to eliminate the sand fly-transmitted leishmaniasis - a devastating disease prevalent in North Africa and the Middle East which can cause skin ulcers and, in its worst form, death.

The sand fly is harboured by the fat sand rat which thrives on desert terrain and feeds on salt bushes. It is extremely resistant to traditional poisons and Rentokil said a specific strategy was needed to combat its spread.

Mr Jones said the greatest challenges facing Rentokil in Libya were in infrastructure and public awareness.

A lack of postcodes and addresses in Libyan cities means that the rat-catchers have to use satellite navigation to negotiate the streets and monitor the 150,000 traps set to be laid.

The firm is also lobbying the government for more effective waste management and an increase in environmental health inspections.

It is also running a public awareness campaign in the country to highlight the health risks posed by the rats.

Rentokil will also use DNA analysis, conducted in partnership with Reading University, to try to overcome the Libyan authorities' traditional problem of the rats becoming resistant to anti-coagulants used in the traps.

The firm's pest control business operates in 38 countries across the world, mainly as a commercial contractor to businesses and households.

But it does have a similar arrangement with the Hong Kong government to control rodents and has previously been employed by the Icelandic authorities to rid Reykjavik's streets of rats.

Rentokil said the deal could herald the beginning of an expansion in the region, with potential markets in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

A spokesman for the company said: "We see opportunities in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

"What has happened in Libya proves the proposition can work."

The firm's move into Libya pre-dated Prime Minister Gordon Brown's meeting with Col Gaddafi at the G8 summit last week.

It also comes amid efforts to turn around its pest control business after "poor or highly variable" service and the economic downturn in the UK were seen to have pushed consumers into the arms of competitors.

Rentokil saw profits halve last year with its City Link parcels arm and its UK washrooms and pest control businesses driving the poor result.

The firm posted adjusted pre-tax profits of £16.5 million for the first quarter, down 18.7% on the same period last year.

It has said its turnaround strategy is already well on its way and performance is expecting profit growth in the second half of the year.