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A Simulation Exercise to Strengthen Cambodia’s Preparedness to Respond to Influenza Outbreaks

09/01/2019

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA: Cambodia experienced an increased number of reported avian influenza outbreaks in poultry in late 2017 and early 2018. This increase can most likely be explained by improvements in the reporting system and closer collaboration between the animal health professionals at central, provincial, district and field levels, however, some outbreak measures remain challenging, especially related to risk assessment, investigation, reporting, containment, public awareness and the collaboration across sectors. These aspects, in addition to vague roles and responsibilities of animal and human health officers at all levels, pose a threat to rapid and effective outbreak measures.

In response, revisions of the draft Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Coordinated Human-Animal Avian Influenza Outbreak Investigation and Response was initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in close collaboration with the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production (GDAHP), the Cambodian Center for Disease Control (CCDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

To improve the outbreak response capability, more than 60 participants from human health and animal sectors and development partners at national, provincial, and district levels gathered in an avian influenza simulation exercise from 19 to 21 December 2018 in Siem Reap province, which was co-organized by FAO, WHO, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Ministry of Health (MOH). The workshop provided fictional scenarios to the participants, starting with a poultry outbreak, and evolving into detection of a new avian influenza strain, transmissible to humans – to find out how well prepared they were for an avian influenza outbreak with pandemic potential.

As explained by Mr Alexandre Huynh, Representative of FAO in Cambodia, “It is crucial for Cambodia to effectively respond to avian influenza outbreaks to avoid large economic losses and safeguard public health. Simulation exercises build the capacity of responsible government staff and prepare them for real outbreaks, ensuring that they take wise decisions and implement appropriate control measures.”

The exercises – which included elements of investigation, response, and risk communication – aimed to enhance the competencies and practical skills of the representatives, and used the SOPs for Coordinated Human-Animal Avian Influenza Outbreak Investigation and Response, Influenza Active Case Finding, and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as guiding principles.

Mr Holl Sinel, Chief of Epidemiology and Information Analysis Office, National Animal Health and Production Research Institute (NAHPRI), GDAHP stated that “the workshop was good as it gathered all relevant animal health and human health sectors together from national and sub-national levels of MAFF and MOH. It allowed us to share knowledge and experiences on avian influenza in the country and also to discuss ways to improve communication and collaboration between stakeholders and to identify recommendations for improving the outbreak investigation and response system.”