To date only a few wild birds have been found dead due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1, in a limited number of African countries. The results of multiple surveys taken in African countries since autumn 2005 have proved negative. Nevertheless, it is important to remain vigilant, and to continue with studies and sampling. In February 2006 HPAI H5N1 was reported in poultry farms on the African continent, in both Nigeria and Egypt, and with the proximity of Europe and Asia, there is always a risk for introduction of the virus. The potential role of wild birds, particularly migratory species, has been recognised, but greater attention must be given to the surveillance and monitoring of wild birds in national plans to combat HPAI H5N1 in Africa.
An international training programme to increase regional capacity to conduct wild bird capture and disease surveillance entitled “Wild Birds and Avian Influenza: Current Knowledge and Approaches to Surveillance in the Northern and Western Africa Region” was conducted in Tunisia December 11 - 14 2007 and hosted in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Animal Health Centre for North Africa in Tunisia. The training programme was attended by 28 professionals including veterinarians, biologists and ornithologists. This included representatives from the Agriculture and Environment Ministries, staff from national parks, universities and non-governmental organizations from Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia. The training programme was provided by international experts from FAO and the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development of France (CIRAD). Financial support was received from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECI).
The four day course was split into three days of classroom based lectures and interactive workshop sessions and a field day to Ichekeul Ramsar Site, a large wetland area of international importance for migratory waterbirds and other wetland species.
The classroom lectures focused on training on avian biology, migration ecology, population monitoring methods, low and highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses, disease transmission among domestic and wild birds, proper wild bird capture and handling techniques, and proper disease sampling procedures for avian influenza and other diseases. Presentations included: an update on the global HPAI H5N1 situation and FAO programmes and networks for HPAI H5N1 control; an overview of FAO wildlife activities; results of wildlife surveillance activities conducted by FAO, CIRAD, Wetlands International (WI), and other partner programmes; HPAI H5N1 ecology and the role of wild birds; capture techniques for wild birds; census and monitoring techniques at important bird habitats; introduction to ornithology and bird ecology; basics of bird migration and flyways; principles of disease surveillance in wildlife; sampling wild birds and assuring good quality sample storage and delivery to laboratories. An AI simulation training exercise film produced by FAO Senegal was screened and greatly appreciated by all participants.
During the field session training was provided on wild bird identification, bird trapping using mist nets, safe bird handling techniques, collection of morphometric measurements, ringing and release of small resident and migrant passerine species. The birds trapped were too small for demonstrating blood sampling therefore the collection of swabs and blood samples were demonstrated on domestic ducks.
At the end of the workshop the participants produced the following recommendations:
- Make sure that plans for sampling wild birds exist and are really carried out in national action plans to combat HPAI H5N1.
- Continue and strengthen research and studies relating to wild birds, particularly around sites where positive cases have been found in domestic poultry.
- Strengthen joint operations between ornithologists, protected area managers, and veterinary personnel, and arrange joint training sessions at national and international levels.
- Improve the quality of catching and sampling operations, and the transport of samples, particularity in the maintenance of the cold chain.
- Encourage cooperation between governmental and non-governmental organizations (clubs and societies) working with wild birds.
- Ensure that the results of surveillance of AI in wild birds are shared, in order to encourage the understanding of the epidemiology.