Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
delivered at

Diagnostic Laboratory and Surveillance Network Coordination
for Control and Prevention of Avian Influenza in Southeast Asia

FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok
28-30 July 2004

His Excellency Mr. Chaturon Chaisang Deputy Prime Minister of the Royal Thai Government
Dr. Yukol Limlathong, Director General of the Department of Livestock Services
Chief veterinary officers and technical officers from Asian countries
Representatives from OIE, WHO and other international organizations
Representatives from embassies and donor organizations
Representatives from the poultry industry in Thailand
Members of the press
FAO Colleagues
Ladies and gentleman

It is my great honor and privilege to extend a warm welcome, on behalf of Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO and on my own behalf, to you all to this important meeting being held at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and of the Pacific here in Bangkok.

I wish to express FAO’s gratitude to the Deputy Prime-minister of the Royal Government of Thailand, His Excellency Chaturon Chaisang and also the Chairperson of the Avian Flu Task Force here in Thailand, for kindly accepting the invitation to deliver the opening address at this opening ceremony. This is another clear demonstration of the high importance which the Royal Thai Government attaches to the fight against Avian Influenza and the recognition that tackling a trans-boundary disease will have to be done through a regionally harmonized approach.

I thank the representatives from local embassies and donor organizations who, through their emergency support, financially and/or technically, to the countries in the region have been instrumental in facilitating rapid responses to the threats. Their assistance allowed immediate action particularly in providing personal protective equipment and covering immediate needs. I also note with great pleasure the presence today of representatives from the private sector and I thank them for their interest.

More than six months have passed since the world was notified officially about the first outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the region in January 2004. The disease escalated in the following months to an unprecedented dimension in geographical spread and intensity resulting in culling of almost 200 million poultry in the region and sadly the loss of 24 human lives in two regional member countries. Trade in poultry products, nationally, regionally and internationally was disrupted, poultry consumption despite assurance of the safety of the processed meat dropped to its lowest levels, and subsistence farmers lost a major part of their income and livelihood. It is highly commendable that the affected countries had taken massive action to stamp out the infected and surrounding farms but it has become evident that the magnitude of the outbreaks and the control of its rapid spread was well beyond the technical, institutional, and economic capacities of a number of the affected countries.

The International organizations--- FAO, OIE and WHO have taken a lead in supporting a coordinated approach to combating the outbreak in the region. One of the milestones was the emergency technical meeting held from 26 to 28 February here in Bangkok. International help was activated and substantial funds mobilized to support the countries in their attempts to control the disease. The Director-General of FAO, Dr. Jaques Diouf, agreed to make available as an immediate emergency action US $ 5.5 million through the instrument of FAO Technical Cooperation Project (TCP). Six national TCPs and 5 regional TCPs with a total amount of US $ 4.4 million are now operational. The TCP that we are launching today is one of the three parallel and similar projects covering South Asia, East Asia and South East Asia.

Intensive efforts by the affected countries through enhanced surveillance activities have shown positive results with the indications that the disease incidence was declining. However, the recent outbreaks in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam clearly show that the current epidemic is far from over and can not be solved in the short term. In fact there are now strong indications that the avian influenza is becoming endemic in the region and will persist for some time to come. As long as the virus circulates in the poultry population it is not only a threat to the poultry industry but a serious public health hazard as noted by WHO. Therefore unabated concerted action by all parties concerned continues to be warranted.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These new outbreaks have also provoked a number of questions with regard to the source of the virus. Are these ‘new’ outbreaks just part of the continuing incidence of avian influenza or are they caused by the virus brought in by wild and migratory birds? What is the transmission and infection mechanism? Are the current control approaches of stamping out, enhanced bio-security and surveillance adequate, and whether additional measures such as the use of vaccines is required? And if so, what are the long term implications of such a strategy? These are questions to which the countries expect an answer from the experts. However, experts do not have all the answers to all questions at this stage, and it is clear that in order to reach a firm basis for rational decisions more precise information on the epidemiology of the disease, socio-economic situation and the results of surveillance programmes are required.

In preparation for today’s launching of the regional network for Southeast Asia, FAO organized an expert meeting in Bangkok last week to seek assistance from several international experts to develop guidelines that will help the countries in the region to address the issues raised above. These guidelines will be presented to your meeting as draft discussion papers during the forthcoming days for your information and input and will eventually form the basis for developing the regional network and collaboration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

May I recall that the meeting of today falls exactly 6 months after His Excelleny the Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra’s call to the agriculture and health ministers and senior officials from Asian countries to Bangkok for an emergency meeting to assess the outbreak of avian influenza in the region and its impact on human health and the economy. In his speech His Excellency the Prime Minister offered to the countries that Thailand could play a leading role in the combat of the disease in the region in providing assistance and playing a co-ordinating role. The high level meeting decided amongst others, I quote:

“ Promote rapid, transparent, and accurate exchange of scientific information to provide early warning of potential outbreaks, and consider to create a regional veterinary surveillance network and to link it with existing human health surveillance mechanisms, including the APEC Task Force on Health, ASEAN Ministers’ Health Special Meeting on Health in Kuala Lumpur and ASEAN Heads of States Meeting on SARS in Bangkok, respectively” , unquote.

The FAO TC Project RAS/3006 Diagnostic Laboratory and Surveillance Network Coordination for Control and Prevention of Avian Influenza in Southeast Asia, which we are launching today with the Chief Veterinary Officers of the ten participating countries, is in full support of the decision made by this ministerial meeting in establishing a network on disease diagnosis and surveying for ten countries in the region from Myanmar to East Timor and Papua New Guinea. Thailand has kindly offered to provide a leading role in the coordination of the programme and, Your Excellency, please accept our sincere thanks for this generous offer and related actions.

We have however to be fully aware that this is only a start-up---a first step of the long march, as the Chinese saying goes. The nature of the TC project requires that the activities are concluded within 2 years. Given the nature of the disease and the continuous threat it presents to the poultry industry and human health, there is an urgent need to develop medium to long term regional plans for the control of the disease. Countries need to start planning for the long term sustainability of the network both technically and financially. As many of you know, the South East Asia Foot and Mouth Disease (SEAFMD) Campaign, which has now been transferred to the ASEAN Sectoral Working Group on Livestock has been very successful in developing a strong regional coordination mechanism for the control of FMD. It is suggested that such an approach could be adopted for avian influenza network and coordination. In fact it would be highly desirable and effective that all transboundary animal diseases control is addressed through a formal regional coordination mechanism. In this context I would also like to highlight that the recent agreement between FAO and OIE on the ‘Global Framework for the Control of Trans-boundary Disease (GF-TAD)’ which has clearly laid out principles and guidelines for the development of disease control networks and their integration into a more global picture.

Your Excellency,
Ladies and gentlemen

We are facing an important task and challenge. In the face of the re-emerging of the avian influenza in the region, the governments, the public and the farmers are looking for and anticipating the experts’ advice for timely actions. The outcome of your work will influence the livelihood of many people be it small-scale subsistence farmers or employees in the poultry industry at large. It will also impact large-scale commercial framers and multinational companies working in the region, but foremost and above economic considerations, let us not forget the persistent threat the virus poses to human health at large in the region and for the world.

I thank you very much for your attention and wish you productive discussions and deliberations leading to a successful outcome.