Bureau régional de la FAO pour le Proche-Orient et l’Afrique du Nord

Stepping up efforts for a better understanding of MERS at the human-animal interface

Stepping up efforts for a better understanding of MERS at the human-animal interface

FAO urges enhanced monitoring of the virus in animal populations

Human infections with the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) continue to be reported from the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. Since April 2012, over 1,106 confirmed human cases, including 421 deaths, have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). The majority of cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia. Although the pattern of transmission appears relatively unchanged, the overall situation and the possibility of international spread remain of concern.

In light of the efforts to better understand the dynamics of MERS-CoV at the human-animal interface, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the State of Qatar in collaboration with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and today launched a regional workshop in Doha, Qatar. The workshop aims to assess the current situation and make recommendations for improving the surveillance, prevention and control of the virus.

While infection has spread through human-to-human transmission in many cases, the primary cases in clusters are more likely to have been acquired through contact with non-human sources of the virus, including environmental or unknown animal sources. Several studies have suggested dromedary camels as a potential source of human infection.

FAO urges enhanced surveillance of MERS-CoV in camels

Some studies reveal that camel populations or camel products might be as a potential source of primary human infections based on published evidence. However, the role of camels in the epidemiology of human infection remains unclear and further studies on the mechanisms by which MERS-CoV is transmitted from dromedaries to humans are needed.

FAO is stressing that it is important for countries in Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula -- especially those with links to camel production and trade -- to ramp up efforts to investigate MERS-CoV in animals, particularly in the context of primary human infections. This requires interaction and building cooperation and trust between, veterinarians, physicians and camels farmers and sellers.

“FAO continues to provide technical support to member countries in the region as part of the overall global response framework to the emerging global threat of MERS.” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa.

“A regional technical cooperation project will be launched soon to assist countries in the region mitigate the impacts of MERS infections in camels through risk-based surveillance, targeted value chain analysis and regional capacity building for laboratory diagnostics, risk analysis and risk management.” Ould Ahmed added.

The workshop targets primarily the Chief Veterinary Officers and animal health experts, as well as Public Health officials in charge of MERS-CoV in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, in addition to other concerned countries from the region. Participants will include key MERS-CoV experts and scientists in identified research institutions, and technical staff from FAO, OIE and WHO as well as representatives from the relevant regional organizations.

Improving regional coordination for enhanced capacity for animal health and food safety

In support of the ongoing efforts to address complex and evolving health and food safety risks in the region, including MERS, FAO developed a strategic framework for a regional Animal Health and Food Safety Programme for the Near East and North Africa region. The main objective of the strategic framework is to build up sustainable and integrated systems to support animal health and food safety at the national and regional levels. In addition a sub-regional programme for animal health and food safety targeting specifically the Arabian Peninsula will be prepared based on the regional strategic framework. 

Source:  EMPRES-Animal Health