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Preparing for animal disease emergencies ‘by the book’

13 January 2012 - FAO holds pilot workshop based on newly improved emergency management manual

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has re-launched a holistic, global push to strengthen the way governments deal with animal disease emergencies. These major diseases can have not only severe direct effects on food supplies and people’s livelihoods, but can also pose disease threats for humans.

Building on a previous version of the publication “Good Emergency Management Practice” and its accompanying resources, trainings and tools, FAO has consolidated and honed the GEMP emergency preparedness and response approach into an authoritative reference for governments to improve the way they manage animal disease emergencies.

To launch the new roll-out to countries, FAO organized a regional workshop in Entebbe, Uganda, from 28 to 30 November 2011. FAO trained 15 animal health focal points from five countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) also participated, along with the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), which contributed related experience from the public health sector.

In further refining GEMP, FAO tapped some of the best minds in animal disease and emergency management issues for their expertise. The result, which FAO published in October 2011, was entitled “GEMP: The Essentials: A guide to preparing for animal health emergencies”. Other products will follow, including a set of standard response procedures for avian influenza and an outbreak communication tool-kit. Through application of GEMP tools, FAO aims to help countries better prepare for the wide spectrum of animal disease emergencies. GEMP concepts can also help build preparedness for other emergencies involving food safety and veterinary public health.

“GEMP is more than the sum of its parts,” explained Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief of its Animal Health Service. “GEMP goes beyond being a standard set of publications and tools – GEMP is a new a way of thinking. It’s an approach to animal disease emergencies built on broad principles proven to work in many contexts, including wildfires, earthquakes and floods.

“What’s important now is to bring the GEMP philosophy to FAO member countries and partners.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has led the integration of the same basic approach to animal disease emergencies in the United States of America, worked with FAO to develop the training curriculum and conduct the workshop. In addition, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported the workshop by providing three facilitators from the RESPOND component of the Emerging Pandemic Threats programme. RESPOND draws upon and combines the traditionally separate expertises housed in schools of public health and veterinary medicine in “hot spots” for disease emergence (such as areas of South East Asia, the Gangetic plains region and Central Africa), so that their resources and strengths are combined in a “One Health” approach to tackling diseases at source. U.S. universities provide support to partner institutions in these regions for better emergency preparedness and response.

Key partners are the Member Countries themselves and their Ministries that have to deal with these emergencies. GEMP is first and foremost for them, to assist them in preparing for, and implementing, this challenging work.

FAO is currently developing plans for workshops in other regions based on an ongoing review of pilot training results.


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