09 April 2015 - Following the recent H5N1 outbreaks in Western Africa since late December 2014, FAO, through the Crisis Management Centre-Animal Health (CMC-AH), has recently deployed rapid assessment missions, in the Republic of Benin, from 22 to 28 February 2015, and in the Togolese Republic, from 1 to 7 March 2015. Both missions were requested to assess the level of preparedness and response capacities of both countries towards a potential H5N1 incursion. At the end of each mission, the team met with the countries’ officials and made the following recommendations:
The Republic of Benin
Representatives from public and private sectors were highly committed to awareness activities and to the control and seizure of illegally imported poultry and poultry products. However, a need for greater clarity involving responsibilities of the veterinary services (VS), the national agency for food safety (ABSSA), and the national agency for civil protection (ANPC) when dealing with animal disease emergencies, and the shortage of human resources, were noted by the mission. These were seen as constraints which could hamper disease surveillance and proper response capacities. Information collected during the mission allowed prioritization of areas of actions:
- The current level of surveillance, particularly in areas at highest risk of introduction of avian influenza, could be improved through the organization of coordination meetings, the activation of the national, regional, and commune HPAI committees and the setting and the development of active surveillance in the regions at high risk. In this regard, the national epidemiosurveillance network (RESUREP) is expected to play a major role;
- A strong emphasis could be put on communication efforts in the country. The strengthening of existing communication platforms and surveillance networks, where both the public and private sectors can share information, is foreseen. Dissemination of prevention and control information to target groups (poultry industry, private veterinarians, Customs) will be further developed;
- A sustainable, adequate training and equipment is a prerequisite for efficient control of HPAI. A high priority should be given to the training of the epidemiological surveillance network and the field staff (ABSSA and VS) on good culling practices, disinfection, and carcasses disposal. Both of the veterinary laboratories at Bohicon and Parakou should be equipped with reagents and the VS, the Regional Agriculture Centre for Rural Development (CARDER), and ABSSA with personal protection equipment (PPE), gloves, and rubbish bags. At this level, very promising funding opportunities seemed possible to support immediate preventive action such as supporting surge teams, trainings, provision of lab reagents and equipment, active surveillance in at risk zones and regional coordination.
The Togolese Republic
During the various meetings, the mission team noticed that the veterinary services as well as the farmers’ community were mobilized against the illegal introduction of poultry and poultry products from infected countries. At the time of the mission in Togo, the veterinary services had launched an awareness campaign among the main partners as per the well-documented country contingency plan. Despite these swift measures, constraints to an effective response such as the need to strengthen the surveillance system, to insure biosecurity of poultry producers and to refresh field disease knowledge/skill of all the field veterinary agents were noted by the experts. The main recommendations of the mission are:
- Implement actions to strengthen the country surveillance abilities: through sustained support to the surveillance network (REMATO), awareness of different field actors, such as farmers, private and public veterinarians, training of laboratory staff and procurement of sufficient test kits;
- Insure optimal response capacities through adequate stock of consumables, practical training of field officers on response activities (poultry slaughtering, disinfections, burial, etc.) and implementing an emergency funding mechanism for the Animal Health Directorate;
- Increase regional communication on suspicions and outbreaks, both for veterinary services and farmers ’associations in Western Africa.
These recommendations and other mission findings were presented to government officials, stakeholders and the local donor community at the conclusion of each mission.
FAO followup on these recommendations will ensure that early detection and early response will prevent jeopardizing livelihoods and food security of millions of households in the region.