Stopping Avian Influenza in Togo

 How FAO is helping countries to contain animal disease outbreaks before farmers’ livelihoods are affected

Key Facts

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 is a devastating disease. Known more commonly as Avian flu, it is very contagious among birds and carries a high mortality rate. Even worse, if an outbreak occurs, many healthy birds risk being culled to prevent the disease from spreading.

From February 2006 to July 2008, HPAI H5N1 outbreaks occurred in Togo and 10 other African countries, threatening public health and severely impacting livelihoods and food security in the region. In December 2015, the disease reoccurred in Nigeria and further spread to Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Niger and Cameroon.

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), FAO launched the Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) programme to build country’s capacities to prevent, detect and respond to disease threats. FAO’s interventions in Togo included an assessment of the HPAI situation, outbreak prevention and management and laboratory diagnosis. Because of the new techniques implemented and new skills learned, lab technicians in Togo were, for the first time, able to detect H5 avian influenza within the country. FAO’s assistance resulted in building the country’s capacity to detect and control HPAI in Togo. FAO’s intervention now means greater self-sufficiency to contain diseases and safeguard livelihoods in the future.

Imagine an outbreak of a disease that wipes out your livestock and livelihood in a matter of days, and there is no laboratory in the country that can quickly detect what the disease is. In this scenario, there is no chance for a quick response.

This is what happened in Togo in 2016. 11 017 poultry were lost and livelihoods of numerous poultry producers and sellers were affected when an outbreak of Avian Influenza hit the country.


Avian Influenza, known more commonly as the Avian flu, can exist in two different forms - one that has a low capacity for causing mortality (low pathogenic avian influenza or LPAI) and one that results in high mortality rates (highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI). The form of avian flu that is currently the subject of great concern is the HPAI H5N1 strain. This virus has killed tens of millions of domestic birds. 

The H5N1 strain of the virus is very contagious among birds. If an outbreak occurs, many healthy birds risk being culled to prevent spread of the disease. In the last 10 years there has been a progressive increase in the number of outbreaks of avian flu in poultry compared with the previous 40 years. While avian flu is primarily a bird disease, affecting mostly poultry and some types of wild birds, it can also affect other animals, such as pigs.

HPAI is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can also spread from animals to humans. Even though it is rare for the H5N1 strain of avian flu to transfer to humans, if it does, the consequences may be dramatic, even occasionally resulting in death. The fact that people generally become sick from infected birds indicates the need to control the disease at its animal source.

HPAI threatens the livelihood of hundreds of millions of poor livestock farmers, causes economic losses and jeopardizes smallholder entrepreneurship as well as commercial poultry production, seriously impeding regional and international trade and market opportunities.

Outbreak in 2016

Shortly after the reoccurrence of HPAI in Nigeria in 2015, Togo requested help from FAO’s Crisis Management Center on Animal Health (CMC-AH) to assess the country’s preparedness and capacity to response.

FAO’s first mission to the country uncovered several gaps in this area, such as laboratory diagnostic capacity. The Central Veterinary laboratory of Lomé was not equipped for this sort of diagnosis and lacked a budget for this.

FAO’s missions to the country helped to finalize the HPAI contingency plan, conduct a needs assessment for laboratory diagnosis and assist in collecting poultry samples from markets in Lomé for training and HPAI screening purposes. FAO also helped to organize a one-week training on HPAI laboratory diagnosis. This training involved two experts from the Lomé veterinary laboratory and was held at the veterinary laboratory in Accra, Ghana.

Finally, FAO helped to install specialized laboratory equipment and train laboratory staff on molecular diagnostic testing.  

In August 2016, this lab was able to test samples and accurately detect avian influenza. This was the first time that a veterinary laboratory in Togo ever diagnosed the disease. Having the ability to diagnose the disease within country, instead of sending samples outside of the country for testing, helps to stop an outbreak in days instead of weeks.

In Togo, it is usually the women who sell poultry at the markets. For these women whose lives and livelihoods depend on poultry production; this means getting their livelihoods back sooner.

With this first diagnosis in 2016, FAO also assisted in managing the outbreak by providing veterinary services with personal protective equipment, disinfectants, as well as other items to ensure appropriate biosafety and biosecurity conditions. These measures coupled with the quick diagnosis led to a rapid control of the outbreak.

More importantly, FAO’s country-tailored assistance means that the country now has the ability to detect and control HPAI in a timely and sustainable manner.

For over a decade, USAID has supported the work of FAO to stop the spread of infectious diseases. Through the USAID-funded programmes, FAO actively prevents and combats diseases in over 30 countries. By supporting capacity development and technology transfer, these programmes are reducing the risk of national, regional and global disease epidemics.

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