10 February 2015 - Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 is a highly contagious, transboundary animal disease. It spreads quickly and causes high mortality in poultry. Unless managed effectively, HPAI H5N1 may cause farmers to lose their flocks and their income, and may cause communities to lose a major source of animal protein. Therefore, it is important to immediately control outbreaks and prevent further spread in order to lessen the damage to livelihoods.
In the past few weeks, the State of Israel has been experiencing outbreaks of HPAI H5N1, some of them in areas adjacent to the border with the West Bank, leading to increased awareness and passive surveillance by the Palestinian Veterinary Services (PVS). By 20 January 2015, two poultry farms had been confirmed positive in the West Bank: a turkey farm in Siris, Jenin and a layer chicken farm in Beit Amin, Qalqiliya. Following these outbreaks, the Minister of Agriculture, through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Office for West Bank and Gaza, requested an expert mission to help assess the situation and provide recommendations for further action. In response to this request, the Crisis Management Centre – Animal Health sent a team to the West Bank from 26 January to 2 February 2015, comprised of laboratory and epidemiology experts, with involvement of both FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). During the course of the mission, the team met with representatives of technical departments in the Palestinian and Israeli Veterinary Services, their field and laboratory staff, as well as veterinary associations and representatives from the poultry sector in the West Bank.
The mission team noted the speed and efficiency with which the Palestinian Veterinary Services controlled both HPAI outbreaks, despite human, financial and logistical resources limitations. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) established in 2008 allowed the PVS to be swift and act in a coordinated and organized fashion in their response. In the event of additional, multiple outbreaks, especially those which may affect large commercial farms, the mission team provided recommendations to the PVS in order to ensure they are able to cope with all possible future scenarios. The recommendations included:
- ensuring a direct chain of command in order to strengthen the capacity of the Palestinian Veterinary Services;
- updating the SOPs from 2008 with lessons learned from the current outbreak response;
- implementing active surveillance for avian influenza year-round;
- increasing the capacity of the Central Veterinary Laboratory by providing materials, equipment and professional development of staff;
- improving communication and collaboration between private and public sectors;
- increasing awareness on biosecurity and best practices among all actors of the poultry sector; and
- increasing the cooperation at the regional level between the Israeli and Palestinian Veterinary Services to strengthen response capacities to HPAI outbreaks.
These recommendations and other mission findings were presented to government officials, stakeholders and the local donor community at the end of the mission. Immediate support was provided by FAO West Bank and Gaza to the PVS by way of procuring diagnostic kits and personal protective equipment. The FAO office will further continue meeting with key donors in order to raise funds and resources which will be used to ensure possible future outbreaks are also dealt with as quickly as possible.