United against bird flu
FAO's role in confronting bird flu
In the avian influenza crisis that began in Asia in late 2003 and has now spread to Europe and Africa, FAO’s roles are many. The Organization provides policy advice, strategy design, technical information and guidelines, contingency planning and technical assistance, training, equipment and supplies such as laboratory equipment, vaccines, agency and donor coordination and public advocacy. It works hand in hand with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and, because of the threat to human health, the World Health Organization (WHO). It also works with UNICEF in grassroots communication. All UN agencies work under the umbrella of the UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza.
Appropriate, timely help
“FAO and OIE sent experts at the beginning of the outbreak to help us draw up an emergency plan,” recalls Dr Bui Quang Anh, Director-General of the Department of Animal Health, Viet Nam. “We had never had this problem before."
Dr Anh says he benefited from an FAO-sponsored avian flu study trip to the Netherlands in 2003, after the disease had broken out in that country but before it erupted in Viet Nam.
In Nigeria in 2006, animal health authorities profited from experiences brought to their attention from distant Asia. “FAO plays a part in bringing advice from other continents,” says Dr Junaidu Maina, Acting Director of the Federal Department of Livestock and Pest Control Services. "For example, they alerted us to the fact that we will need an 'exit strategy' to help some farmers hit by bird flu who will not return to chicken keeping." He praises FAO for its timely technical and policy advice and technical assistance such as training of 600 animal health technicians and the provision of protective clothing, disinfectant and lab materials.
FAO's global reach
As the epidemic went global, FAO’s strengths as an international organization became evident: experienced multilingual staff, rosters of international experts and offices in 90 countries. It has tried to keep ahead of the disease, preparing countries as far away as Latin America for possible outbreaks.
FAO plays a strong role in promoting regional cooperation as well.
In order to predict disease spread, Turkey needed help with regional information, according to Dr Musa Arik, head of Animal Health Services: “FAO helped us understand the bird flu situation in countries that border Turkey, something we could not always do on our own.”
In West Africa, working with the African Union’s Programme for the Control of Epizootics (PACE), FAO provided funding from its own resources to set up specific regional networks of laboratories and surveillance teams, and organized regional workshops on bird flu control, exchange of animal health personnel between countries and information sharing.
Finally, FAO has a broader role and comparative advantage in transboundary control for livestock diseases other than bird flu. Its Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) was created in 1994 to prevent disease and pest outbreaks from getting out of control.
"Even before bird flu, we in PACE have been working on a surveillance network on rinderpest and African swine fever," says Ibrahim Ahmed, National Coordinator for PACE Nigeria. "FAO has helped us in updating preparedness plans and coordinating activities of donors."
In the period from January 2004 to June 2006, FAO fielded a total of 392 missions to assist countries in confronting bird flu.
21 July 2006
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