Delegates from ASEAN and SAARC member countries,
International organizations and development partners,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning, and welcome all.
I am very pleased to open this important workshop, in which many experts and partners from Southeast and South Asia have come to discuss the way forward with the emerging public health threat of H7N9 that could have significant regional and global implications. Thank you all for taking time out of your very busy schedules to be here.
In the short time since the H7N9 influenza virus was first detected, a truly impressive effort by experts from the region, especially China and the international community, has dramatically slowed the spread of the virus and the number of human infections. This success was possible mainly because of the improved capacity in detecting and responding to infectious animal disease threats and experiences of China and other countries in the region built from H5N1 avian influenza. In addition, rapid collection and sharing of information including human case data, genetic sequences, and surveillance results in animal was key to bringing H7N9 influenza under control. I also wish to congratulate our colleagues in organizing various consultations and workshops to build up our knowledge and share experiences on this recovery emerged Avian Influenza.
The key meetings as of today include:
- The Expert Consultation Meeting organized in April at FAO Headquarters to generate documents on Guidelines for H7N9 surveillance, risk assessment and management;
- The Technical Meeting among USAID partners organized in May to discuss possible synergies to deal with H7N9 among the US agencies and the tripartite international organizations – FAO, OIE and WHO;
- The Technical and Policy Discussion on the Prevention and Control of Avian Influenza A (H7N9) in Asia jointly hosted by the Royal Thai Government and USAID in July to share the lessons learned from China and latest scientific information on H7N9 biology and epidemiology, as well as discussing plans for multisectoral and multilateral collaboration and coordination; and
Last week, another technical meeting was convened among the international experts from FAO, OIE, WHO, CDC, USAID and USDA at FAO Headquarters to advance plans for H7N9 surveillance and preparedness for various countries in Asia, which are at different levels of risk to the virus incursion and spread.
While these are all great accomplishments that should be applauded, it is important to remember that the virus in China is still present and there is still a lot that we do not fully understand 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. Thus we must ensure that we 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.
In recognition of the significance of H7N9 in Asia, FAO has committed funds to support two regional Technical Cooperation Projects (TCP) entitled:
- “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)”.
A total amount of US dollar one million is allocated from FAO’s regular programme resources to these two projects.
The overall objective of the projects is to conduct a coordinated sub-regional surveillance and response to avian influenza A (H7N9) in poultry and other animal populations in high-risk countries in Southeast and South Asia. The immediate objective of the projects is to enable the targeted countries to better detect, control and respond to A (H7N9) influenza.
This meeting aims to officially launch these two TCPs. Also in this room we have veterinary experts from countries from the subregions in Southeast and South Asia, and from a number of international organizations and development partners. Using the lessons learned from China, and our collective expertise, countries should get an opportunity to discuss how to adjust their own surveillance and response mechanisms, and to prepare for a possible resurgence of H7N9. In addition, countries will have an opportunity to review and finalize the proposed work plan as well as assign responsibilities and time frame for implementation of agreed activities;
Please also use this opportunity to identify the possible synergies in the human health, animal health and other sectors among the countries in the region and between the countries and the relevant international organizations. The benefits of this strengthened collaboration across boundaries at subregional and regional levels, extends well beyond the immediate threat of H7N9. We expect that the sharing of information, and the coordination that takes place at this meeting and through the period of the TCPs, will lead to further improvements in infectious disease detection and response so that, as a global community, we are better prepared for immediate action and early containment, the next time a new disease emerges.
FAO maintains a strong commitment to strengthening in-country capacities to detect and respond to infectious disease threats, in Asia and in other parts of the world.
We should not forget that H5N7 is a global threat and our initiatives in Asia should not be seen as a regional problem but we are working for the global population.
Before concluding, I wish to stress once again the importance of the collaboration between animal health and human health sectors under “one health” approach, as well as inter-country and inter-sub-regional cooperation. Indeed, these are the keys for our ultimate success in our operation.
Finally, I wish to extend to my colleagues who are organizing this event, and to each of the countries, sub-regional, organizations and partners represented here today, our sincere appreciation for your pro-active commitment. I wish you a very successful and productive meeting.