Transmissible zoonotic pathogens associated
with livestock pose a challenge to public health and economic
security at local, national and global levels. Thus, the emergence
and spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus
in East and Southeast Asia has led to massive investments
in disease prevention and control, most of which, ironically,
were devoted to contingent pandemic planning in OECD countries.
A more cost-effective approach to the global management of
emergent disease risks would be to increase investments in
disease risk management in the epicentre countries. These
are low-middle income economies, characterized by high poultry
densities, a large backyard poultry sector and high levels
of rural poverty. Not only might such measures make pandemic
damage control unnecessary, they could have the added benefit
of improving the livelihoods in poor rural communities.
As poultry are an integral part of the rural social fabric
in the epicentre countries, HPAI control necessarily implicates
the majority of the rural poor. This large socio-economic
group has to be considered in risk reduction strategies, and
these strategies must be designed with them in mind. Unfortunately,
current approaches to the containment and eradication of HPAI
predominantly focus on technical aspects, paying little attention
to institutional constraints of animal health systems and
the economic realities of animal production and livelihoods.
This often places heavy burdens on the world’s poor.
HPAI control presents an unusual opportunity for international
cooperation because poor rural households can contribute to
the global commons of disease prevention. However, their participation
in this effort is unlikely to be voluntary, and indeed must
be rewarded if success is to be achieved.
Control Strategy Design and Implementation
Disease control strategies usually target one or more of
the risk generating mechanisms. This process can affect prices,
production, domestic and international trade patterns, and
ultimately employment and income. Also, the chosen control
measures result in direct cost to the public sector agency
addressing the problems, and to the impacted farmers, industry
Devising evidence-based strategies to contain animal and
human health risks is complex. It requires thorough analysis
of epidemiological and socio-economic information, development
of scenarios of disease spread, their likelihood of occurrence,
the identification of critical control points and interventions,
and the costs and impacts of the latter. To enhance the likelihood
of compliance, strategy design needs to balance the interests
of the wide variety of stakeholders, including the rural poor,
and, therefore, has to build in negotiation at different levels,
ranging from local, through national to international.
Given the transboundary nature of the HPAI risk, international
participation and regional coordination are necessary for
sustained risk reduction. However, successful implementation
of the selected strategy requires cost-effective decentralization
of control capacity. This may signify the need for new command
and incentive relationships between district and provincial
authorities, central government, and outside stakeholders.
Because of diverse initial conditions, national strategies
cannot be decentralized effectively without close attention
to local incentives. Microeconomic analysis within a New Institutional
Economics framework and localized design and implementation
are essential to ensure that regional and national policies
are efficiently translated into local action.
Disease Surveillance and Reporting
HPAI outbreaks in large and dispersed populations pose special
challenges to surveillance systems. When the source cannot
be independently traced, moral hazard arises because incentives
to report are often low or even negative. Indeed, producers
who discover sick animals may try to sell or dispose of them
(alive or dead) without reporting infection. Reporting problems
often aggregate to national and international level if the
responsible institutions are not monitored effectively or
have their own incentive problems. Inefficiencies in disease
reporting systems contribute to larger and longer-lasting
outbreaks, which in turn increases pandemic disease risk.
If policy makers want to reduce HPAI risks to animal and
human populations without unavoidable adverse effects on the
poor, they need more effective means to identify local outbreaks
and to rapidly contain them. The information needed to accomplish
this exists, but it has until now been very difficult to obtain.
Evidence suggests that local communities are well aware of
infection patterns, but reporting processes are plagued by
inefficiency and incentive problems.
Effective surveillance systems need to combine incentives
for collective responsibility and self-reporting, that take
into account the resource constraints of different households
and communities, whilst providing disincentives for not reporting
through, for example, collective penalties that induce peer
An important class of strategies that could be introduced
to control the spread of agriculturally originated contagious
diseases are mechanisms to trace the movement of agricultural
products generally and livestock in particular through national
and international markets.
Traceability is emerging as a major component of more integrated
national and international food systems, which propagate their
standards across agriculture and the food industry. It is
an increasingly important component of food product differentiation,
assuring quality, and maintaining heterogeneity in the agricultural
and food systems. At the same time, consumer concern for food
quality and food safety, and the introduction of modern supply
chain management systems (even to developing countries) are
increasing the value of traceability and capability to preserve
identity throughout the food chain. Thus traceability has
dual value to consumers and producers, increasing the effectiveness
of demand targeting and raising value-added by origin.
With modern information technologies, including wireless
communication and miniaturization of electronics, the cost
of monitoring across agricultural supply chains is declining
rapidly. This opens opportunities for the poor who depend
on livestock to benefit from well designed traceability and
Pro-poor risk reduction strategies should thus be integrated
with extension and marketing services that transfer standards
and technology upstream and product quality and diversity
downstream, thereby increasing value-added for smallholders.
One of the big challenges is to introduce traceability quickly,
inexpensively, and effectively so the net benefits can be
conferred on smallholders before adjustment costs drive them
out of production.
There is a global momentum for rapid and intensive measures
to control poultry stocks and restructure the poultry sector.
These policies need to address the economic and institutional
realities of the rural poor. To reconcile such macro and micro
perspectives effectively is a much greater challenge than
simply allocating international resources to national governments.
By combining incentive and penalty mechanisms for disease
reporting with traceability schemes, one can:
- reduce upstream disease risks, and
- improve downstream product quality.
Surveillance and traceability systems could thereby improve
the terms of market access for the rural poor. Social investments
to reduce health risk (locally, nationally, and globally)
can have the very significant dividend of improving smallholder
commercial viability, making them better rather than worse
off as a result of HPAI policies.
This pro-poor benefit stands in stark contrast to most control
measures currently applied to HPAI, which seriously disrupt
rural markets and livelihoods and tend to drive the problem
underground, thereby increasing rather than reducing global