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202. At the invitation of the Chair, the Sub-Regional Representative explained that this particular item had been included so that countries could be briefed on the developments to date relating to the outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the Asian region and its possible implication to the Pacific. He acknowledged the presence of the Senior Animal Production and Health Officer from the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, who had been involved in monitoring the development of the disease outbreak in Asia. He then invited him to make a presentation on the topic.

203. The Senior Animal Production and Health Officer, Mr Hans Wagner stated that the outbreak of the avian flu began in late 2003 and had continued into 2005. The outbreak had been disastrous to the poultry industry in several Southeast Asian countries and had raised serious global public health concerns. Nearly 140 million domestic poultry birds had either died or been destroyed and over a hundred people had contracted the infection, of which 54 had died as at May 2005. Economic losses to the Asian poultry sector were estimated at around US$10 billion, but despite control measures the disease continued to spread causing further economic losses and threatening the livelihood of hundreds of millions of poor livestock farmers, jeopardizing smallholder entrepreneurship and commercial poultry production and seriously impeding regional and international trade and market opportunities.

204. He outlined the infection pathway of the disease, the different control measures adopted by the infected countries and the recent changes in the genetic make-up of the virus as found in some of the infected countries and the possibility of the disease becoming a pandemic. He stated that the response strategy of FAO was to minimize the global threat and risk of HPAI in humans and domestic poultry, through progressive control and eradication of HPAI, particularly those caused by the H5N1-strain of the virus. In analysing the risk of HPAI to the Pacific Island Countries, it was considered that the biggest risk area would be through infected wild birds crossing over to some of the countries particularly those lying within the West Pacific flyway and causing transmission of the disease to local birds. He highlighted the fact that since local poultry production was generally small-scale and scavenging with little or no bio-security control in place, this could create a problem in terms of control in the event that disease was introduced.

205. He stated that live poultry imports to the Pacific was very limited and the main suppliers were the United States and New Zealand, thus the risk of the disease being introduced through imports of live animals was minimal. He pointed out, however, that total poultry meat imports to the region had significantly increased over the last years to 40,000 tonnes and thus it was important to ensure that imports of live birds, poultry meat and products such as eggs were from HPAI-free countries. He concluded by emphasizing the need to take appropriate measures and precautions to avoid the introduction of the disease into the region. He also advised that in case higher mortalities in poultry were found in any of the countries of the region, tests for HPAI must be included as part of the diagnostic analysis being conducted to determine the possible cause.

206. The Minister of the Solomon Islands thanked FAO for the useful information on the HPAI and enquired whether any incident of the disease had been recorded in Australia and New Zealand. He added that such information was considered very important to the island countries of the region given that they were the most important gateways for Asia to the region. In response, the Senior Animal Production and Health Officer advised that the two countries had not recorded any case of the bird flu and efforts were being made by both countries to ensure that they remained HPAI-free through strengthened and more stringent biosecurity services being put in place.

207. The Minister from New Zealand also responded to the query raised by Solomon Islands saying that New Zealand had not encountered any specific HPAI case, however, strategies had been developed under the country’s biosecurity protocol to prevent and address outbreaks of such a disease in the event of it being introduced accidentally.

208. The Representative from the Cook Islands sought further information on whether the virus causing the HPAI was being transmitted through contact with live animals only or through contact with contaminated animal carcasses and meat products as well. He also enquired whether there had been a vaccine developed for the disease.

209. In response, the Senior Animal Production and Health Officer advised that the disease could also be contracted through contact with raw meat. In regards to the issue of vaccine, he advised that while some work was currently been carried out to develop an effective vaccine, there were issues that needed to be considered, which included the question of how much to be produced and held for future outbreaks, where to store them and the cost involved.

210. The Representative from Samoa expressed appreciation for the information provided and outlined the trends in the development of the poultry industry in Samoa. He said that over the last few years, poultry farms had grown bigger in size and number and were now much closer to human settlements. He added that the hygienic conditions of some of the farms were a real health concern. He then sought advice on how the situation currently experienced by Samoa could be managed to ensure it was safe to humans. In response, the Senior Animal Production and Health Officer advised that the best way was to apply good biosecurity management practices.

211. The Representative from Tonga noted with appreciation the information provided on bird flu disease and suggested that, in view of the high number of experts and technicians coming to work in the region under the SSC arrangement, consideration should be given to the possibility of having them vaccinated before they were dispatched to the region, to ensure they would not introduce the disease. Following discussions on this suggestion, it was accepted that given the current number of humans being infected with the disease, the risk of introduction through the SSC officers was very minimal and therefore the need for vaccination was not necessary.

212. The Representative from Papua New Guinea expressed appreciation for the information provided which was important to Papua New Guinea given that it was sharing a common border with an Asian country and thus the possibility of the disease being introduced to Papua New Guinea was quite high. He added that the control and management of HPAI and other livestock diseases was of critical importance to the sustainable development of the livestock sector in Papua New Guinea and as such technical assistance and training would be required to facilitate the regular surveying and monitoring of livestock diseases.

213. After further discussion and clarification, the meeting noted with appreciation the useful information provided on the avian flu pandemic and the potential threat to livestock and the lives of the peoples of the Pacific. It also endorsed the need to have in place effective biosecurity measures and good management practices to minimise the spread of the disease.

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