Your Excellency the Prime Minister of Thailand
Your Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand
Distinguished Excellencies Ministers of Agriculture and Public Health
Ladies and gentlemen
The spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in several countries in Asia is a threat to human health, a disaster for livestock production and trade and a serious problem for millions of farmers whose livelihoods depend on poultry production.
FAO is encouraged by the timely initiative taken by the Prime Minister of Thailand in calling for and hosting this august meeting to address this threat. FAO is honored to be associated with this ministerial meeting, and I should take this opportunity – on behalf of FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf – to express the appreciation of FAO to the organizers.
Present Avian Flu outbreak in Asia
Since July 2003, a number of serious disease outbreaks in poultry have been reported in several Asian countries. Its highly pathogenic virus strain H5N1 has now been confirmed in 8 countries. Two other countries have reported the presence of a low pathogenic Avian Influenza.
For Laos, the H5 virus was confirmed yesterday but the sub-type still needs to be identified. FAO greatly appreciates the assistance of the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in conducting diagnostic tests for Laos.
Infections of humans, including fatal ones, have been attributed to avian flu in Thailand and Viet Nam.
Whether the simultaneous outbreaks in different countries are only a coincidence or whether there are causal linkages requires further investigation. Wild migratory birds, water fowls and ducks constitute a natural reservoir for the virus.
Impact of the Avian Flu crisis
Up to now, estimates of poultry culled due to Avian Flu exceed 25 million birds. Already the impact to local communities and both commercial poultry operations and small holders is devastating, and will be worsened if further culling is required. The presence of Avian Influenza prohibits all affected countries from exporting fresh and frozen poultry products, which particularly hurts Thailand as the 4th largest exporting country. Consumer confidence is shattered and may well lead to a public health scare that may also disrupt tourism, which is of significant importance to the region.
Measures to be considered
Emergency operations need the full commitment of the government, veterinary services, chicken producers and animal traders. The costs involved are substantial and international assistance to needy countries is necessary.
After a confirmed outbreak, all poultry in infected farms and surrounding areas have to be immediately culled. All persons dealing with potentially infected materials need to wear protective clothing according to established standards.
Because of the high virulence, this is a race against time. Appropriate compensation and assistance must be provided to producers, in particular small holder farmers, to ensure their collaboration in the effort.
Animal movements need to be restricted; infected poultry houses need to be disinfected, kept idle for at least 21 days and neighboring farms need to be closely surveilled. Close monitoring will need to determine when the outbreak can be declared over according to international standards, so that production can resume.
To confront the present crisis, a media campaign must inform farmers, others subjected to occupational exposure and the general public about the necessary measure and possible risks.
FAO stands ready to assist affected countries; FAO’s technical cooperation programme can provide emergency funds on the request of governments. Several emergency projects are already underway. At regional level, FAO is prepared to help investigating the origin and dynamics of the disease, also to avert further outbreaks.
The extent of the current outbreaks of Avian Flu clearly demonstrates the need for improved regional collaboration and communication. Governments, regional and international organizations, in particular FAO, WHO and OIE, have to jointly prevent and mitigate similar disease outbreaks in future. Mechanisms have to be developed and established which comprise surveillance, early warning, and early reaction.
It is recommended that existing mechanisms such as APHCA (Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia and the Pacific) or FAO’s Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases are used and strengthened. Emergency plans for possible future outbreaks should be detailed on national basis and harmonized on a regional basis.
Timely information feedback from governments is essential. Appropriate national policy for sharing information and transparency in livestock diseases is key to the success in disaster prevention and control.
For further measures, the source of the infection needs to be identified. The spread of the pathogen may have been facilitated by the dramatic scaling up of pig and poultry production which have led to a massive geographic concentration of livestock in Asia. Large scale industrialized units with high hygienic standards exist side by side with small scale or improved small-scale farms applying insufficient bio-security measures. Often, high densities of humans and animals coincide, creating new pathways for disease transmission through inappropriate waste disposal, direct contact or through air-borne transmission. This may give rise to newly emerging diseases and are a threat to human and public health. A disease outbreak may immediately take disastrous levels.
This crisis suggests that the poultry sector in Asia may need substantial restructuring. Currently, “closed” system with controlled environments exists side by side with open smallholder operation. The need for good agricultural practice—from farm to the table---and building up healthy farming systems are embedded with issues dealing with improvement for consumer and the producers, with food safety and bio-security systems. A pro-poor, environmentally friendly and animal welfare approach should be integrated into the national poverty and food insecurity alleviation programme. Towards this long term effort, FAO can provide the necessary expertise and planning tools in veterinary epidemiology, spatial analysis, economics, environmental management and policy advise to assist governments.
Thank you very much for your attention