Vienna - A joint division of FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been recognized for moving quickly and effectively to help nations prepare for the potentially pandemic strain of avian influenza known as H7N9.
Since the virus was first found in China in March 2013, more than 190 human cases have been confirmed, with 52 of those infected dying.
With concern growing that the disease could spread during the upcoming flu season, the Joint FAO-IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture moved quickly to transfer appropriate diagnostic technologies and to organize training for key officials in 35 nations on how to diagnose, trace, monitor and control the new virus.
Veterinary experts from countries in Southeast and South Asia and from a number of international organizations and development partners participated. The goal was to improve early detection and reaction capabilities in those countries and to prepare them for H7N9 infections and similar influenza threats in the future.
Recognizing its swift and efficient response, the IAEA recently gave the Division its Superior Achievement Award for exceptional efforts to prepare nations for H7N9.
“H7N9 is no longer (only) a country problem,” said Bhutan’s Principal Livestock Health Officer Jambay Dorjee who attended the training. “We need a common understanding of this problem at a regional level.” Dorjee said FAO had provided countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation with a much-needed coordination platform as well as the possibility to source funding through donor agencies.
FAO is also to begin implementing projects to increase preparedness for and response to H7N9 in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.
The recognition came as the Joint FAO-IAEA Division celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1964. Focused on finding peaceful uses for atomic energy in agriculture, the Division has been previously described as “one of the best examples of inter-agency cooperation in the United Nations family”.
It has achieved several other major successes in agriculture including: millions of hectares of higher-yielding and disease resistant crops gained through radiation-induced mutations; and the improvement of livestock and agricultural systems through the eradication of insect pests such as the tsetse fly and the fruit fly using the sterile insect technique (SIT).