03 April 2014 - Avian diseases sometimes pose a threat to animal and human health. Veterinary epidemiologists have been working with public health officials on different strategies to improve surveillance and response to such emergent diseases. The goal of these efforts is to detect diseases early and to prevent transmission to animals and humans by working at the source of the disease. That means identifying and stopping new viruses in bird populations before they spread to other birds, or to people. Recent experience has shown that Live Bird Markets (LBMs) play an important role in the transmission and spread of avian pathogens.
In order to develop global guidelines and tools for improved disease surveillance in the poultry market chain with a focus on LBMs, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) organized a three-day consultation from 24 to 26 March 2014 with the technical and financial support of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fourteen experts came together at FAO headquarters in Rome from ten countries and four international agencies in order to begin working on creating global guidelines and tools for avian disease surveillance in poultry market chains. At the moment, avian disease surveillance methodologies vary in different affected countries, and even within some countries. A standard methodology would improve avian disease surveillance quality, allowing for the evaluation of surveillance systems and facilitating the comparison of disease data across borders.
The participants at the meeting agreed on the need to establish clear objectives for surveillance programmes and use a poultry value chain approach with a focus on LBMs. A value or market chain approach begins with a comprehensive understanding of the rearing, housing and movement of poultry to and from markets. This allows health workers to identify critical points for both surveillance and preventive action along the poultry market chain. Although this approach is not being put into practice widely in national or regional disease surveillance and control programmes, FAO and its partners aim to assist member countries to understand and support them in how to apply these new guidelines and tools practically and cost-effectively.
Until now, FAO has sought to address the immediate needs dictated by avian disease pandemics by providing ad hoc guidance on approaches and practices to enhance surveillance. However, there is a need to draft practical guidelines for technical planners, field epidemiologists, frontline workers, decision-makers and other stakeholders in countries where avian infections are a concern. By creating a reference guide for surveillance, FAO will also assist scientists and decision makers to share and interpret data on avian diseases. Ideally, the guidelines will help improve the cost effectiveness of surveillance strategies and tools, which tend to be very expensive and a limiting factor in developing countries.
Through the development of standard guidelines and accompanying training materials FAO will faciliate the sharing of lessons learned in surveillance programmes and outbreak detection and response. FAO will thus provide member countries with appropriate methodologies and tools to follow in order to detect and report avian disease in LBMs. This has great potential for better management of animal health programmes which can prevent devastating loss of animals and livelihoods, and even stop the spread of future pandemics.