Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Continued partnership will strengthen countries’ preparedness, surveillance and response
Rome - FAO’s commitment to fight emerging disease threats in
"hotspot" regions worldwide is getting a boost with new funding from the
United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the UN
agency said today.
The funding, totalling more than $20 million, will support the
ongoing US-FAO partnership against H5N1 highly pathogenic avian
influenza (HPAI) and a widening focus on potential emerging pandemic
The continuing threat of bird flu
The US assistance will help strengthen preparedness and response to
HPAI in Southeast Asia and bolster laboratory and surveillance
capacities in hotspot areas.
The majority of the funding will support activities in Bangladesh,
China, Indonesia and Viet Nam, which continue to experience outbreaks of
H5N1 HPAI in poultry as well as cases in humans, some fatal.
Funding will also go to regional coordination to combat avian
influenza and to support surveillance and prevention in Cambodia, Lao
PDR, Nepal and Myanmar, which are threatened by the disease’s continuing
persistence in neighbouring countries.
These countries continue to have sporadic outbreaks, indicating the
H5N1 virus continues to circulate in poultry and remains a threat to
poultry production, human health and the livelihoods of millions of
vulnerable farmers who depend on poultry raising for their basic food
needs and a means of making a living.
"The US Government has been key in generating international support
to combat avian influenza and to reduce the chances for a human pandemic
by assisting FAO and others to address the threat in animals before it
spills over into humans. Such support for basic prevention measures is
rare, yet most sensible and cost effective" said FAO Chief Veterinary
Officer Juan Lubroth.
"USAID is pleased to continue its collaboration with FAO" said Dennis
Carroll, Director of USAID’s Avian Influenza and Other Emerging Threats
"FAO has proven to be a highly effective and innovative leader in
responding to the threat posed by emerging zoonotic diseases. As a prime
mover in the promotion of One Health FAO continues to be instrumental
in demonstrating the central importance of collaborative partnerships
across the sectoral domains of environment, animal health and human
health. Through the partnership between USAID and FAO we look forward to
being able to continue to provide a broad range of technical,
operational and commodity support to those countries most vulnerable to
the threat of zoonotic diseases" he said.
Emerging pandemic threats
Thanks in large part to the USAID-FAO partnership, since avian
influenza grew to proportions of a global crisis between 2004 and 2006,
the scientific community has gained a deeper understanding of what
drives disease emergence and thus the measures to take to prevent
Due to the speed with which animal-origin pathogens such as H5N1,
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003 and the H1N1
influenza pandemic in 2009, caused by a virus that had combined elements
of avian, swine and human origin, USAID launched its "Emerging Pandemic
Threats (EPT) programme.
Through EPT’s "Identify" component, support is funnelled to countries
to strengthen the capacities of national and regional laboratory
networks to diagnose and characterize different types of influenza virus
This continues to be especially important in Southeast Asia, where
new virus strains continue to emerge, which can eventually develop into a
direct threat for human health and perpetuate poultry losses. In
addition, as viruses adapt, poultry vaccines against H5N1 can lose their
effectiveness, leaving domestic poultry vulnerable to disease.
Beyond bird flu
Sheer population numbers and population density - animal and human -
are clear risk factors for influenza virus emergence. And Southeast Asia
is considered a ‘hotspot’ region given already high population numbers
and the rates of population expansion - of people and animals living in
ever closer contact.
China alone is home to half the world’s pigs, about a quarter of its
chickens, 70 percent of all ducks and 90 percent of the globe’s geese.
Close contact among them all provides viruses with many hosts and the
opportunity to jump species, which in turn can lead to virus adaptations
and eventually an influenza virus with pandemic potential. EPT "Plus"
monitors the animals that have the closest contacts with humans -
poultry and pigs especially - to catch pathogens emerging from the
animal world before they can affect humans.
In addition, the mixing of wildlife with domestic animals is of
particular concern, and a common practice in scavenging and small-scale
systems of animal production. Moreover, growing populations with more
wealth are driving demand for animal-based products and meat, so animal
farming is intensifying and expanding into pristine ecosystems.
The continuing partnership with USAID will include funding for FAO’s
field work on wildlife to better understand the increasing intermingling
of wild animals with livestock and humans.
Two out of three emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic,
or have their origins in animals. Of those zoonotic diseases, 75
percent come from wildlife.
With the support of USAID and the US Department of Agriculture, FAO
has established a Crisis Management Centre for Animal Health, an
emergency response unit with the capacity to rapidly mobilize and deploy
teams of veterinary and other experts anywhere in the world to advise
governments on emergency control measures, including prevention and
Now in its seventh year of operation, the CMC-AH has fielded 60
missions, assisting 40 countries with outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza
as well as other high impact animal diseases, including H1N1 influenza,
peste des petits ruminants, Ebola Reston virus, rabies, foot-and-mouth
disease, African swine fever, Rift Valley fever, Newcastle disease and
more, including aquatic animal diseases.
‘One Health’ approach
These activities are part of a broader effort by FAO and its
partners, including the World Health Organization and the World
Organisation for Animal Health, to address zoonotic and other high
impact diseases by addressing complex health threats through a holistic
and multi-disciplinary lens.
Total US commitments to FAO’s activities in the fight against HPAI
and other zoonotic diseases over the past seven years have totaled
around $213 million.