Oct 12, 2006 (CIDRAP News) To speed emergency responses to avian influenza and other animal and plant diseases, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) inaugurated a new crisis management center (CMC) at its Rome headquarters today.
The center, founded with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), is supported by advanced communication technology and will operate around the clock, 7 days a week, the FAO said in a press release. The center is staffed by up to 15 specialists and veterinarians who will continuously update and monitor disease information.
If a suspected outbreak is reported, the crisis management center can dispatch experts anywhere in the world in less than 48 hours, the FAO said. The center can react quickly to emergencies involving plant pests or food safety, as well as diseases, officials said.
"The CMC represents a significant leap forward in FAO's ability to help member nations prevent and cope with disease outbreaks," said Dr Jacques Diouf, director-general of the FAO, in the press release.
Speed is of the essence in the international fight against avian flu, Diouf said. "Alert must be lighting quick. Reaction must be immediate in combating a disease, which can move across borders and continents terrifyingly fast."
The CMC is headed by Dr Karin Schwabenbauer, Germany's former chief veterinary officer. Dr Gary L. Brickler, from the US Department of Agriculture, is deputy director. Animal health emergency response will be handled by the FAO's chief veterinary officer, Dr Joseph Domenech, and the FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division will handle the CMC's operational support.
The United States donated $5.1 million and three veterinarians to the CMC; other donors include Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Saudi Arabian, China, Greece, and Jordan.
Meanwhile, Thailand and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a school-based campaign this week to protect children and their families from the spread of avian flu, according to a United Nations announcement yesterday.
Thailand has the third highest number of human H5N1 cases (25), and the disease has killed 17 people, including 11 children younger than 18.
The campaign covers all of the country's 40,000 elementary and secondary schools. The curriculum will help ensure that children understand what they can do to help prevent the spread of avian flu, such as washing their hands frequently and reporting sick or dead poultry.
Four million posters and pamphlets containing prevention and awareness messages will be distributed; elementary schools will receive 300,000 bars of soap. The campaign was produced by UNICEF and funded by Japan.
Oct 12 FAO press release
Oct 11 UN press release
Jul 14, 2006, CIDRAP News story "USDA, FAO to launch animal disease crisis center"