Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING REMARKS

by

Hiroyuki Konuma
Assistant Director-General and
FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

delivered at the

Technical and Policy Discussion on the Prevention and Control of Avian Influenza A(H7N9) in Asia

Bangkok, Thailand
24 to 25 June 2013

 

H.E. Yukol Limlaemthong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Royal Thai Government
H.E. Pradit Sintavanarong, Minister of Public Health, Royal Thai Government
Dr Michael Yates, Mission Director, Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA), USAID
Dr Richard Brown, Regional Adviser, WHO Southeast Regional Office
Dr Joseph Domenech, Charge de Mission, OIE
Dr Rubina Cresencio, Chair of ASEAN Sectoral Working Group on Livestock (ASWGL), ASEAN
Dr Ranjani Hettiarachchi, Chief Veterinary Officer, Chair of SAARC
Representatives from the public and animal health sectors of the SAARC, ASEAN and ASEAN+3 member countries
Donors and colleagues from international agencies.

A very good morning to you. First of all let me express my sincere appreciation to the Royal Thai Government and the Government of the United States for organizing this timely and important meeting on Technical and Policy Discussion on the Prevention and Control of Avian Influenza A (H7N9) in Asia. I would also like to thank them for inviting FAO to facilitate this meeting. The emergence of a new influenza A H7N9 virus of avian origin in south-east China in February 2013 is alarming to China, the neighbouring countries, the Asian region and the global community at large.

There is increasing evidence that the main source of the infection in humans is domestic poultry. The extensive surveillance conducted by the Government of China clearly shows presence of the virus in the samples collected from chickens, ducks and pigeons from live bird markets. And the environmental samples from live bird markets have been shown to be contaminated with the virus.

The vigorous control measure undertaken by the Government of China, which included culling of poultry in infected live bird markets, enhanced biosecurity, movement control and closure of live bird markets, have had a significant impact on the incidence of the disease in humans. Fortunately, since the implementation of these measures the human cases have been declining significantly.

Government of China should be commended for their swift response to this emerging threat. The rapidity with which they have generated new information on this novel virus, and the lessons they have learned from implementing control measures are extremely valuable to the global community.

Because of our proximity to China, we in the Asia region are particularly worried about the implication of the emergence of this new virus. There are significant formal and informal trading links among the countries in Asia and the possibility the virus spilling over into the rest of Asia cannot be ruled out. Therefore those countries that are ‘non-infected’ need to be prepared to prevent the incursion of the virus and if the incursion occurs, to minimize its impact.

There are several properties of this virus that are cause for concern to the global community. The virus causes infection in both poultry and humans, but only causes disease in humans. Therefore the virus can spread silently in a poultry population, and raises the possibility of the infection spreading widely undetected over a large geographical area in the region through animal movement and trade.

The technical and policy issues of addressing a public health problem, the source of which is rooted in apparently healthy domestic poultry and possible involvement of wild birds calls for a multi-sectoral dialogue and collaboration. This is an opportunity to put in practice yet again the ‘one health’ principles that are being increasingly adopted in the region to address the complex problem of high impact emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

The Government of China has announced that the economic loss due to this virus since its first emergence is estimated to be over 6.5 billion dollars. FAO is therefore concerned not only for the public health impact, but the larger impacts on food security, livelihoods and poverty alleviation in the region.

FAO has had a significant experience of addressing high impact diseases. In the region, over the last 10 years FAO has played a leading role in addressing the avian influenza problem in poultry. Through these efforts and support from international donors and inputs from national governments, a good capacity in the field of prevention and control of infectious diseases has been established. FAO stands ready to assist countries in the region to draw on this capacity to address the impending threat by H7N9.

Since the emergence of the novel H7N9 virus, FAO has been actively involved with the Government of China and the countries in the region in coordination, disease intelligence, communication, development of guidelines for risk assessment and risk management and development of protocols for risk based surveillance and diagnosis. A number of these activities have been conducted in close collaboration with our international partners and OFFLU, the OIE/FAO network of expertise on animal influenza.

As an immediate reaction, FAO, through is technical cooperation programme, has committed financial resources to support global and regional initiatives to address the threat of H7N9. In this regard, I am pleased to announce that two regional emergency TCPS to support those SAARC and ASEAN countries that are at risk of incursion of H7N9 virus.

I note that the meeting participation includes high-level representations from Ministries of Agriculture and Ministries of Health of China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Egypt. In addition, there are representatives from regional and international organizations, including SAARC, FAO, WHO, OIE, USAID, AusAID, ADB, US CDC, AAHL, USDA, and research institutions.

We hope that this meeting will provide an opportunity for both the public and animal health sectors of the countries in Asia to discuss collaborative efforts to address the threat of H7N9 in the region. In your discussions I sincerely hope that you will consider how we can advocate for stronger political support and make the prevention and control of high impact emerging infectious diseases in this region more sustainable.  In this connection, I wish to suggest that continuity pandemic plan be reactivated with clear identification of roles and responsibility of each actor and we should build a strong resilience and preparedness to potential threats.   We as FAO would like to assure our partners that we are ready to assist in supporting actions to control and mitigate the impact of this new virus.

Once again, I would like to thank GoT and USAID in organizing this meeting, representatives from various countries, donors and international organizations in participating in the important meeting.

I wish you a constructive dialogue and outcome from this meeting.