19 April 2013 - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) organized an urgent meeting on 17 and 18 April with more than 30 experts to implement an emergency risk assessment on the evolving situation of avian influenza A(H7N9) virus. Leading animal health specialists from multiple disciplines including epidemiology, virology, disease modelling, risk management, biosecurity and food safety worked with FAO experts over the course of two intensive days. Public health specialists from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States of America also contributed outside of attending parallel influenza meetings at FAO. With the avian influenza A(H7N9)virus now detected in a variety of avian species, FAO is taking urgent steps to convert the latest knowledge into guidance for member countries.
“With situation like H7N9, it is critical that governments have access to the most accurate and up-to-date information available on the risk posed by a rapidly evolving threat. Critical elements to consider at this phase include surveillance strategies and risk mitigation measures along market chains,” said Vincent Martin, Head of FAO’s EMPRES Animal Health. “By bringing together some of the world’s most informed epidemiologists, animal health and food safety experts, FAO and partners are taking early steps to rapidly assess the risk posed by H7N9 and inform countries steps that can be taken to protect animals and people.”
Within a matter of days FAO organized for available partners to join an expert working group on risk assessment under the One Health approach. Participating bodies of excellence included international partners like the European Food Safety Authority, the Royal Veterinary College, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement, the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie.
Focusing their work on science-based information, the experts defined core levels of risk posed by H7N9 to animals and animal-related livelihoods. Holding the meeting under FAO’s coordination offered the opportunity to capitalize on experience amassed over more than 10 years of FAO helping prevent the global spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1. With this new H7N9 scenario, FAO and partners are adapting their approach while building on what has already been achieved in country capacities to locate, detect and understand animal threats.
Key areas of guidance generated by this urgent meeting include new and improved recommendations on surveillance, enhanced biosecurity and food safety considerations.
FAO will continue developing this and other H7N9 initiatives with its key partners the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and WHO.