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4. Operational capability

4.1 Responsibility for aquatic animal disease emergencies

“Countries must establish specified crises centre(s) (disease control centre[s]) that shall have the responsibility for the co-ordination of all control measures to be carried out. Such centres could either be located centrally or locally, depending on the infrastructure in a given country. A list of the crises centre(s) that have the necessary facilities to carry out disease control measures should be made widely available.

The contingency plan(s) should also state that the crises centre(s) have the authority to act rapidly to bring a given disease situation under control by contacting the personnel, organisations, aquaculture establishments, etc., that are involved directly or indirectly in managing an outbreak of a disease.” (OIE, 2005)

The Responsible Officer recognized by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for the particular country should have overall technical responsibility with regard to preparedness for and management of aquatic animal health emergencies. This may be the office of the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) or equivalent Competent Authority, such as the Director of Fisheries, for a country. The government minister responsible for the regulatory authority for aquatic animal health protection would be ultimately responsible for the country.

4.1.1 National Emergency Disease Planning Committee

A National Emergency Disease Planning Committee (NEDPC) should be appointed to facilitate and coordinate contingency planning. This committee should be directly accountable to the relevant minister, and should be charged with the responsibility for developing and maintaining a high state of preparedness for animal disease emergencies. It should preferably be chaired by a clearly identified Responsible Officer who should conduct regular meetings to carry out the following functions:

The NEDPC should comprise the Responsible Officer as chairman, a National Emergency Disease Planning Officer (see below) as secretary, a director of field services/director of disease control (or equivalent), a director of the national laboratory system, the director of aquatic animal quarantine (border controls) and/or aquatic epidemiology unit (where present) and the directors of relevant state or provincial agencies.

In addition to these senior officials, representatives of other ministries that may have responsibilities related to responding to aquatic animal disease emergencies, such as environment, wildlife services, and economic planning and finance, should either be full members of the committee or designated, as required. It is recommended that members drawn from the private sector, such as representatives of major fishing, farmer, processing and trading organizations, as well as national industry representatives be included in the planning process. Directly affected stakeholders should be included in contingency plan implementation to ensure collaboration and effective containment of diseases that might otherwise be spread by “panic response”activities. Proactive inclusion of stakeholders of vulnerable resources in test runs of contingency plans is a recommended procedure for identification of any gaps or problems in implementation plans, as well as easing industry concerns over “fear of the unknown”.

4.1.2 National Emergency Disease Planning Officer

A National Emergency Disease Planning Officer (NEDPO) should be appointed. This officer should be a senior officer in the relevant government department with training in epidemiology and/or extensive field experience in the management of aquatic animal disease control programmes. Depending on resource vulnerability and diversity, a small unit of specialized professionals can be appointed to support the NEDPO (e.g. communications officer), however, a single overall leader, with clearly identified responsibilities, is essential.

The planning officer would be both the adviser to, and the executive officer of the National Emergency Disease Planning Committee, and would be actively involved in all NEDPC functions listed in Section 4.1.1 above.

4.2 Aquatic animal disease contingency planning as a component of a National Disaster Plan

Most countries have well-developed national disaster plans applicable to major fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and terrestrial animal and human infectious disease outbreaks. These allow essential government and non-government services and resources to be rapidly mobilized in response to these disasters. Such plans may also allow essential services agencies to be given special powers to act unimpeded by normal bureaucracy under such emergencies.

A strong case can be made for the official recognition of aquatic animal disease emergencies as a defined disaster situation that can be readily incorporated into existing national disaster plans. An epizootic of an emergency aquatic animal disease, for example, has the same characteristics as other natural disasters: it is often a sudden and unexpected event, has the potential to cause major socio-economic consequences, including jeopardy of national food security, and requires a rapid nationally coordinated response.

4.3 Legislation and enforcement

“Countries must establish the necessary legal provisions that are needed for the implementation of contingency plan(s). Such legal powers must include provisions for establishing a list of diseases for which action is needed, definitions of how such diseases should be managed if detected, provisions for access to infected/suspected sites, and other legal provisions, as needed” (OIE, 2004).

National governments must have in place the necessary legislation to allow them to implement contingency plans. This may involve stringent measures, such as restrictions on domestic movement (zoning) and the sale of potentially infected stock, entry of aquaculture premises and processing facilities for purposes of testing and inspection, confiscation of stock, the mandatory treatment or destruction of aquatic animals, and penalties for violations. As part of national aquatic animal disease contingency planning, the Responsible Authority should undertake a review of the pertinent existing national and state legislation to ensure that necessary legal powers are in place. If existing legislation is lacking or inadequate, the national legislation should be revised or new legislation prepared. Developing countries that lack sufficient expertise to assess their legislative needs can request assistance from international agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Regulatory frameworks for national emergency preparedness and response to aquatic animal disease outbreaks have recently been reviewed by Van Houtte and Dogra (2005).

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