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U.S. and FAO continue joint battle against infectious disease threats

Early identification and response is key to preventing outbreaks

17 August 2010, Rome - The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is renewing its support of FAO's efforts to combat highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and other emerging infectious diseases, the UN agency announced today. USAID's commitment totals US$26.3 million for the period running from October 2011 to September 2012.

The funds will support continuing FAO technical assistance to strengthen HPAI surveillance and outbreak response capacities in priority countries and regions where the disease still persists and continues to kill people, impact poultry production, and undermine the food security of millions of poor farmers. Priority countries include Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Viet Nam.

The funding will also be used to strengthen animal health laboratory capacities as well as animal surveillance and response capacities in ‘hot-spot' regions in order to combat other emerging disease threats, in addition to HPAI.

An effective partnership

"This new funding marks the continuation of an FAO-USAID partnership which has been at the forefront in the battle to prevent and control HPAI and other transboundary animal diseases and zoonoses," said Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer. "The partnership began in 2005, at the outset of the HPAI emergency and has continued over the past five years through the commitment by USAID of US$132.5 million, benefiting more than 90 countries worldwide, more than 60 of which were ultimately affected by HPAI."

This joint effort helped to restrict HPAI to a small number of countries, where the virus is entrenched in some ecosystems, and to additional countries in Asia experiencing intermittent outbreaks.

The two organizations achieved this by assisting national veterinary services to develop preparedness and contingency plans, improve surveillance systems, acquire laboratory resources and disease diagnosis capacity, develop response capabilities, promote biosecurity along the value chain, and support public-private cooperation.

This enhanced capacity of veterinary services worldwide serves as the foundation for the preparedness and prevention of other emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, as well.

Early identification and response key

Early identification and prevention of dangerous pathogens circulating in animals is key to limiting threats posed to human lives, livestock, food and income security of urban consumers and rural communities as well as to minimizing trade impacts.

This is why USAID this year launched its Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program in order to aggressively pre-empt or control diseases that could spark future pandemics. The EPT Program comprises four tracks: Predict, Respond, Identify and Prevent. FAO is receiving funds under the Identify track, which aims to develop laboratory networks and strengthen diagnostic capacities in geographic hotspots to counter emergent diseases. This work will be carried out in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Getting to the root of the problem

"The challenge now before us is to build emergency response platforms that can also trace and address infectious disease events at the level of root causes or drivers," said Lubroth. "This includes identifying the drivers of disease emergence, assessing disease impacts, and utilizing insights and experience from past disease events to better prepare for, prevent and swiftly respond to potential pandemics."

Animal disease prevention and control are integral components of the broader development agenda and contribute to the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Photo: ©FAO/A.K. Kimoto
Strengthening the capacity of veterinary health officials in the developing world is key to minimizing threats from zoonoses and animal diseases.