FAO Publication on Avian Influenza in Endemic Countries
13 May 2011 - In April 2011, the Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released Paper No. 171 titled “Approaches to controlling, preventing, and eliminating H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in endemic countries.” The publication comes after seven years of experiences dealing with this disease around the world. The following paragraphs, extracted from the Executive Summary, highlight the most relevant issues at hand.
At its peak, H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1 HPAI) was reported from over 60 countries in 2006. Since then, most affected countries have eliminated the disease, some more than once as a result of multiple incursions of the virus. However, in at least six countries in Asia and Africa—The People’s Republic of China in East Asia, Viet Nam in the Greater Mekong sub-region, Indonesia in Southeast Asia, Bangladesh and India in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and Egypt in North Africa—H5N1 HPAI has remained entrenched, and these countries are endemic for the disease. It is expected that for most of these countries, and their respective regions, it will take a few years to achieve freedom from the virus.
Three main factors have been identified to inhibit progress towards the elimination of H5N1 HPAI in the endemically infected countries. The first factor is the complex structure of the poultry sector. This is caused by the rapid increase in demand for poultry and the unregulated growth of the sector.
The second factor is the quality of public and private veterinary and animal production services, which have limited capacity to identify and respond to all cases of infection, fully understand the drivers of value chains, and implement needed changes to production and marketing systems. Also, the existing capacity for systematic outbreak investigation is oftentimes inadequate and disease investigations and tracing rarely identify the sources of infection.
The third factor is the level of commitment within the poultry sector, governments, and the public towards the elimination of H5N1 HPAI. The fear of H5N1 HPAI does not necessarily translate into concrete plans for virus control and elimination. Clearly, support for the type of measures needed to eliminate H5N1 HPAI from zones or entire endemically infected countries will be half-hearted until most farmers regard the disease as a serious threat to their livelihoods and wellbeing.
To move forward, each of the endemically infected countries should implement activities that take them closer to virus elimination and reduce the prevalence of disease in poultry and humans, progressively building on the gains made since they first reported cases of disease. FAO, in association with national authorities, has developed a framework, based on experiences gained so far in endemically infected countries, covering activities that, if adopted, will help to move each country along the path towards virus elimination.
For endemically infected countries in which it may take several years to bring about changes to the way poultry are reared and sold, it may be necessary to explore unconventional control methods. All alternatives and solutions for control should be considered because there is no reliable guarantee that the current incremental approach will eliminate H5N1 HPAI, especially if the three inhibiting factors are not or cannot be addressed fully. The actions taken by countries and regions will not only assist in containing H5N1 HPAI but also in controlling and preventing other pernicious diseases.
FAO of the UN is an institutional partner of World Veterinary Year (Vet2011).