Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING REMARKS

by

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

Delivered at the

Regional Workshop on strategic and legislative aspects
of controlling HPAI and emerging infectious diseases

Bangkok, 9 September 2008

National Counterparts of Avian Influenza Control from the Ministries of Agriculture,
Distinguished participants,
FAO colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning,


First of all, on behalf of FAO and my colleagues, I welcome each and all of you to this important Regional Workshop on strategic and legislative aspects of controlling HPAI and emerging infectious diseases. I should like to express my appreciation to all participants and resource persons for taking out time to travel to Bangkok and contributing to this endeavour.

Many of you may recall that a regional workshop in July 2004 recognised that there was a need for a regional approach to controlling highly pathogenic avian influenza and FAO has been pursuing this approach through partnership with a wide range of donors. In particular, with the financial support of the Asian Development Bank, in early 2006 FAO launched a major regional approach to respond to the disease threat.

A first priority was the development of a key reference document – A Strategic Framework for HPAI prevention and control in Southeast Asia. This document provided directions for deciding what needed to be achieved if control was to be established over highly pathogenic avian influenza. It also allowed concerned parties to accumulate a wide range of good practices and gain useful experiences at local, national, regional and international levels.

Since then, the December 2007 New Delhi Conference of Ministers on Avian and Pandemic Influenza brought into focus the need to control emerging infectious diseases particularly those that are zoonoses – further necessitating a revisit of the strategic framework document.

In addition, in the course of implementing the strategic framework, it became increasingly clear that HPAI had become endemic in many parts of the region. We thus were and still are facing new challenges.

For the distinguished participants in this forum, I acknowledge FAO’s gratitude for your contribution to a better understanding of the priorities you see for meeting the new challenges in control and prevention of HPAI and emerging infectious diseases.

At this point, I should mention that the workshop is largely based on follow-up work undertaken by Dr Ian Robertson on reviewing country legislation, and by Dr Andrew Turner who has appraised FAO’s coordinating role in the control of highly pathogenic avian influenza and emerging infectious diseases. I wish to express my special appreciation to both of them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Other issues have recently emerged that attract high media and public attention such as soaring food prices, climate change, cyclones and earthquakes. We should, however, not neglect the potential threats of Avian Influenza. We should not forget that bird flu has killed 243 of 385 infected humans and more than 140 million poultry have died or been slaughtered to control the disease since the first outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza across Southeast Asia nearly five years ago.

Despite massive efforts and investments by governments, international organizations and the poultry sector, the disease has expanded in geographic scope and to more animal species, and has become endemic in several countries.

Scores of lessons have been learned throughout these years, lessons that need to be carefully considered so that we can finally start turning the tables, implement sound and even more effective disease control systems for highly pathogenic avian influenza, and initiate more timely responses to new disease events.

We should not be complacent on what have been achieved, but continue our efforts on capacity building for effective control systems. Continued and enhanced financial support from both governments and international communities will also be needed.

Ladies and gentlemen,

FAO and its partners are deeply involved in building regional capability and capacity of national veterinary services and outbreak response through training, education, infrastructure and institutional strengthening. Together, it is our main aim to strengthen national animal health and veterinary services to meet future challenges and, in doing so, build up the necessary inter-country cooperation for effective disease control in Asia.

I wish to convey FAO’s continued commitment to control and eradicate avian influenza and transboundary animal diseases, and our dedication to building sustainable regional approaches.

Intensive efforts by AI affected and at risk countries have shown promising results, but more is still needed for further improving the technical and operational capacities of national veterinary services.

Avian influenza is an animal disease, and FAO continues to emphasize that priority should be given to tackle – and win – the fight at source in order to reduce or eliminate the continuing threat to public health. Indeed, as long as highly pathogenic avian influenza continues to affect significant numbers of poultry, it will remain a threat to public health.

Having said this, it is crucially important to closely cooperate with the health sector in addressing this situation as their support is essential for effective control programs in poultry.

Finally, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Asian Development Bank for supporting this workshop. The emergency and development support generously donated by many donor agencies to the countries in the region has been crucial for enhancing capability and capacity to respond to disease threats that do not seem to be diminishing. FAO is grateful to all countries and agencies that have supported its work in Asia and looks forward to their continuing support.

Thank you.