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News & features archive, 2010

FAO assists Mauritania with an integrated simulation exercise for highly pathogenic avian influenza

Photo: ©FAO/Katinka de Balogh
04 June 2010 – Between 2003 and 2010, a total of 62 countries throughout the world, of which eleven are in Africa, have experienced outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza A subtype H5N1 (H5N1 HPAI). In sub-Saharan Africa, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo have had cases in poultry and wild birds. Nigeria reported the only confirmed HPAI human case in 2007. While in most of Africa the disease appears to have been successfully controlled, Egypt continues to recurrently report cases of H5N1 HPAI in animals and humans.

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania (Mauritania) has not reported any case of HPAI to this date in its territories. There are however concerns that this zoonotic disease could be introduced into Mauritania with potentially devastating consequences on food security, animal and human health, social stability, and rural and urban livelihoods. In this context, and in recognition of the numerous benefits of avian influenza emergency preparedness, the Regional Animal Health Centre for North Africa (RAHC-NA) of the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) held an integrated table-top simulation exercise in the capital city of Nouakchott, Mauritania on 7–8 March 2010 titled: Exercice National Théorique de Simulation sur l’Influenza Aviaire Hautement Pathogénique dans les Populations Animales et l’Homme.

A total of 60 participants from national, regional and international institutions attended this exercise with officials from local veterinary associations and national parks, the Ministries of Rural Development and Public Health, the National Guard and Civil Protection, the National Centre for Livestock and Veterinary Research (CNERV, French acronym), non-governmental organizations, as well as radio and newspaper journalists, animal husbandry specialists, veterinary epidemiologist, veterinary public health consultants, and representatives of the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and FAO. Additionally, observers from Morocco and Algeria also participated.

The aim of this exercise was to identify strengths and weaknesses in the country’s contingency plans for avian influenza and also examine the communication, coordination and cooperation between the different sectors involved in addressing avian influenza in animal and human populations in Mauritania. This event was made possible with assistance and close collaboration of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, the Canadian International Development Agency, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, and the Government of Mauritania.

The two-day event was opened by the Secretary Generals of the Ministry for Rural Development, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Communication, and a representative of the Ministry of Commerce. Following these remarks, FAO and national experts gave presentations on the global and national situations of H5N1 HPAI in animal and human populations. Participants were then divided into four groups. Each dealt with the four sessions of a simulated outbreak scenario, in which participants addressed a number of critical questions. A large map was placed in the middle of the room to enable better visualisation of the outbreak areas and to illustrate the extent of implemented measures. The elicited discussions around the map were generally perceived as very useful, as they triggered more lively exchanges and involvement among participants. On two occasions, mock press conferences were held forcing participants, who played the role of the authorities, to respond to challenging questions posed by the organizers and fellow participants taking the roles of critical journalists.

FAO and its partners recognize that organising HPAI simulation exercises is an effective tool for improving national, regional and community level preparedness and responses. Emphasis must be given to the fact that prevention of the emergence and cross-border spread of human and animal infectious diseases is a global public good that benefits all countries, people and generations.

A report analyzing the strengths and weaknesses identified through these integrated simulation exercises will be conveyed to national authorities. Upon request, FAO will further assist Mauritania and other African countries to enhance their preparedness and response capacity to face outbreaks of HPAI as well as of other animal and zoonotic diseases.