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News & features archive, 2010


Avian Influenza: continued support is required

© FAO/H. Wagner17 september 2010

Over the past ten years, there have been three major pandemic threats with major economic, health, political and social consequences: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 (H5N1 HPAI) and Influenza H1N1 (2009). Developing countries have been hit the hardest.

The factors making diseases to jump from animal hosts to humans comprise rising population growth, encroachment of fragile ecosystem, intensive farming operations and perhaps the effects of climatic changes on agro-ecological landscapes. Once this ‘species jump’ is a fact, propagation within human populations worldwide is likely. It is estimated that 75 per cent of new human diseases come from animals. High human densities, global transport of food items, cross-border trade, commerce and human mobility are likely to accelerate the transmission of new infectious diseases upon emergence.

Protecting countries and their citizens against new infectious diseases will require innovative health management with enhanced disease intelligence supported by a global network of diagnostic laboratories facilitating early warning, early detection and early response. A drivers-focused approach to disease emergence will have to grow in importance, the same as collaboration and coordination between animal, human and environmental health agencies; more collaboration between the public and private sectors; communication and awareness campaigns; and sustained commitments at the highest political levels.

While in the recent past there has been significant progress in terms of influenza control and pandemic preparedness, the world continues to face threats of avian and pandemic influenza and other infectious diseases. These threats call for continued support, vigilance and investments that are critical for global health security, people’s livelihoods, social development and economic progress.

To uphold global health security: the ‘One Health’ approach has been devised. It can be best defined as a collaborative, international, cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary mechanism to address threats and reduce risks of detrimental infectious diseases at the animal-human-ecosystem interface. It strategically builds on the lessons learned from the responses to H5N1 HPAI and H1N1 epizootics. This approach is thought to be of high value to governments, private and public companies, civil society organizations and the public at large to prepare for future global outbreaks of infectious diseases.

In addition to H5N1 HPAI and H1N1, other emerging or neglected infectious diseases such as rabies, human tuberculosis and brucellosis, result in significant human and economic losses in predominantly poor communities around the world. International technical agencies collectively support national and global preparedness, as part of global responses to these insidious diseases. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is a lead actor in mounting animal health responses against classical and contemporary diseases in places where it is most needed, and where health and food security pose a twin challenge.