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Building risk assessment capacity in Myanmar animal health services


01 September 2016 - A workshop on qualitative risk assessment in animal health was organized by FAO’s Myanmar Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) team in Mandalay from 22 to 25 August 2016, with the aim to support the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department (LBVD) in its endeavor to make risk assessment a sustainable activity in the country.

Attending were 22 participants with background in either epidemiology or virology, coming from different sections of the LBVD (national and sub-national), the University of Veterinary Science and the Myanmar Livestock Federation. The activity was supported by funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under FAO’s component of the emerging pandemic threats (EPT) 2 program. It proved a great pleasure and opportunity to have Dr Farida Camallia Zenal join from ECTAD Indonesia. Dr Farida will act as one of the trainers in a similar workshop planned there later this year.

In interactive sessions, participants were familiarized with the steps of animal health risk analysis. These include: (i) hazard identification, a detailed description and profound understanding of the pathogen in question and factors or features that may influence associated risks; (ii) risk assessment, the actual step of defining probabilities for occurrence of a hazard, and combining them with its possible consequences; and (iii) risk mitigation, utilizing the results of a risk assessment to suggest measures for risk reduction that can be applied in the Myanmar context.

Participants brainstormed and discussed different data sources and were introduced to methods for convening an expert consultation and utilizing expert opinion in the assessment. Two risk assessment experts from FAO headquarters led the training, Dr Sophie von Dobschuetz and Dr Ludovic Plée. “I am using the same interactive concept also during Master Course classes I teach back at my Veterinary University in Nantes, France.”, Dr Plée explained. “Keeping things simple, practical and focused, participants are able to perform good quality risk assessment straight away.”

During the remainder of the workshop, participants tackled different risk questions. These covered zoonotic avian influenza virus introduction into Myanmar, focusing either on H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) or low pathogenic AI H7N9. Participants assessed risks related to legal or illegal trade with live birds or poultry products, or the movement of wild birds. They prepared four risk assessment reports.  These comprised an introduction containing the hazard description, the assessment itself and results, and proposed risk mitigation measures according to the risk levels assessed.

To deepen data collection understanding and practice in a real field situation, the Mandalay LBVD office organized an afternoon visit to local poultry processing shops and collector yards. Participants applied a questionnaire they designed earlier during a plenary session. Debriefing took place during tea in the Mandalay LBVD office:  the information obtained was compared and discussed. Participants put forward some challenges encountered and the group agreed on ways to improve field data collection.

When asked whether she was satisfied with the course, Dr Lin Lin Bo, who holds the position of Assistant Director of the Head of the Epidemiology Unit, enthuses: “I am so grateful for this workshop, it comes exactly at the right time.” Although participating in a similar training several years back, Dr Lin Lin Bo said that having a little daughter made her shift priorities and focus on her family for a while. Now she feels ready to tackle risk assessment in her day-to-day work again. “This very practical workshop is exactly what I needed to boost my confidence! Now I feel ready to assess risks, not only related to avian influenza but also other animal disease threats.”

Dr Phyoe Thu Aung, who didn’t apply the risk assessment methodology since he learned about it at Chang Mai University, where he obtained his Master degree in Veterinary Public Health, is also very satisfied with the learning experience. “My job at the Veterinary Planning Section in Nay Pyi Taw includes overseeing the surveillance for avian influenza. I now want to apply my risk assessment skills to better plan surveillance activities. Because it is not enough that we know the risks, the next step is to do something about it!”

On Friday, 26 August, risk assessment reports prepared in the workshop were presented to Dr Ye Tun Win, the LBVD Director General (Chief Veterinary Officer of Myanmar). He was impressed by the outcomes and keen to support his staff in applying their newly acquired skills for better safeguarding animal health in Myanmar.

 

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