22 May 2015 - In light of the efforts to better understand the dynamics of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) at the human-animal interface and to elucidate the role of camels in the epidemiology of MERS as a potential source of infection, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Qatar, in collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO), convened a Regional Workshop on MERS and One Health in Doha, Qatar on 27–29 April 2015. This is the second consultation on MERS in animals in the region after the first meeting in Oman in May 2014, co-organized by FAO and Oman.
The meeting aims to assess the current situation of the disease, to present existing knowledge on the potential role of animal species in the epidemiological cycle of MERS and to make recommendations for improving the surveillance, prevention and control of MERS at the human-animal interface. Stepping up intraregional and global cooperation was also at the centre of discussions during the meeting.
The Government of Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health and the Ministry of the Environment hosted the meeting. About 100 participants from 10 countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates) were brought together, in addition to selected MERS experts from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Erasmus Medical Center (the Netherlands), the University of Hong Kong, the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (CSIRO, Australia), the Centre de Coopération en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD, France) and representatives from OIE and WHO. Representatives from FAO Subregional Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council States and Yemen (SNG), FAO Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa, Egypt (RNE) and FAO Headquarters were also in attendance. Participants included Chief Veterinary Officers and technical staff from veterinary services, as well public health officials.
The meeting included presentations from the invited MERS experts, FAO, WHO and OIE on the state of knowledge about MERS in humans and animals, and One Health practices. Representatives from the participating countries outlined the history and status of MERS from the public health and veterinary perspectives. Presentations from the most affected countries revealed the active engagement of veterinary authorities in animal investigations as well as enthusiasm to address specific issues of MERS in camel populations for a better understanding of the infection at the human-animal interface. A session was dedicated to the One Health approach and practices in relation to MERS in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
There was extensive debate about the technical and regulatory aspects of MERS in animals including surveillance of the virus in camels, the management of MERS-positive animals on farms and at slaughterhouses, as well as the border inspection of imported animals into GCC countries.
The main outcomes of the meeting were summarized in the Doha declaration, agreed by all participants. This declaration provides guidance and best practices in relation to (i) surveillance of MERS in animals, (ii) food safety and the environment, (iii) risk communication, (iv) research needs and (v) regional and intersectoral collaboration.
The meeting was considered successful as evident from the active participation of the attendees, the expert level of discussions and pertinent contributions from all parties in the meeting’s final statement.