Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

FAO launches emergency projects to fight H7N9 avian flu

Initiatives to help Asian countries improve virus detection, control and response

Bangkok, Thailand, 18 Sep 2013 -- Two emergency regional projects* aimed at containing avian influenza were launched today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific at a three-day workshop. The meeting was attended by veterinary experts from countries in the sub-regions of Southeast and South Asia and from a number of international organizations and development partners.

Working in coordination with development partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), these FAO projects will promote coordinated sub-regional preparedness, surveillance and response to A(H7N9) in poultry and other animal populations in Asian countries at risk. The projects will assist countries in the region to better detect, control and respond to the virus.

The emergence of A(H7N9) influenza in China raises the possibility that the virus could spread to a number of countries in the region which are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). FAO said these initiatives will boost epidemiologic knowledge, surveillance and diagnostic capacity and risk management, including preparedness and response, risk communication, as well as coordination and collaboration among ASEAN and SAARC countries and between animal and human health authorities.

Countries in Asia must remain vigilant in light of possible re-emergence of A(H7N9)

Speaking  at the workshop project launch, Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, warned the region that the “virus in China is still present and there is still a great deal not yet understood about this H7N9 virus. Other influenza viruses that circulate in poultry often decrease dramatically during the summer months, only to reappear later in the year during cold season. Also, many low pathogenic influenza viruses in poultry have transformed into highly pathogenic viruses.”

Konuma called on countries in the region to ensure that they are prepared should the H7N9 virus follow a similar path. “This means that all countries in Asia need to be vigilant– both for incursion and spread of the virus, and possible evolution to highly pathogenic type.”

Preparation needed in case there is a resurgence of the A(H7N9) virus

Konuma urged veterinary experts at the workshop to “discuss how to adjust surveillance and response mechanisms and to prepare for a possible resurgence of H7N9 suggesting that participants identify synergies of the human health, animal health and other sectors among the countries in the region and between the countries and the relevant international organizations.”

He added that the “sharing of information and the coordination that takes place at this meeting, and through the period of these projects, will lead to further improvements in infectious disease detection and response so that, as a global community, we will be better prepared for immediate action and early containment the next time a new disease emerges.”

*Emergency Assistance for Surveillance of Influenza A(H7N9) Virus in Poultry and Animal Populations in Southeast Asia - TCP/RAS/3406(E) and Emergency Assistance for Surveillance of Influenza A(H7N9) Virus in Poultry and Animal Populations in South Asia - TCP/RAS/3407(E)