Mar 11, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said this week that "substantial progress has been made in the preparedness and response mechanisms" for battling H5N1 avian influenza around the world.
"This progress includes improved planning and policy development, better communication and collaborations between national and international partners, greater capacity in the field services of veterinary authorities, greater laboratory capacity, and in many cases progressively increasing credibility of national livestock services," the agency said.
In most countries the improvements have been accompanied by reduced numbers of H5N1 outbreaks in poultry and a decline in human cases, the FAO added.
The agency also said the H5N1 virus and the responses to it have increased awareness of the importance of livestock enterprises for building national economies and for enhancing efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth that helps the poor. In particular, the disease has raised awareness of the fast growth of poultry industries in Asia and Africa.
The FAO statement comes as H5N1 continues to circulate in several countries, with Egypt and Vietnam as the most active places in recent months. Last week Egyptian livestock officials reported finding H5N1 at 69 locations since Feb 10, and Vietnam reported seven outbreaks in four provinces.
The number of countries reporting bird outbreaks has declined over the past few years, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Thirty-five countries reported the virus in poultry or wildlife in 2007; this dropped to 28 countries in 2008 and then to 17 countries in 2009.
The OIE reports that as of early February, six countries had reported H5N1 outbreaks in poultry or wildlife in 2010: Cambodia, China (Hong Kong), Israel, Myanmar, Nepal, and Vietnam. In addition, Bhutan became the 63rd country to face the H5N1 virus when it reported its first outbreak on Feb 23.
As for human cases of H5N1, the official total listed so far this year by the World Health Organization is 18, including 5 deaths. Fourteen of those were in Egypt, 3 in Vietnam, and 1 in Indonesia. Worldwide, human cases peaked at 115 in 2006 and have generally declined since then, with 73 cases (and 32 deaths) last year.
In the FAO statement, the agency claimed considerable credit for the progress in fighting the virus, saying it "certainly owes much to the commendably high level of commitment, engagement and tenacity of FAO's in-country teams and the support received from the FAO units at headquarters and in the regions."
The agency also listed several recommendations for continuing to battle avian flu and other livestock diseases, including:
- The development of a more integrated and multidisciplinary approach to international, regional, and country-level programs
- The development of a clear and cohesive interface between emergency responses
- Active engagement with privately owned poultry enterprises in affected countries
Mar 8 FAO assessment of global progress
OIE lists of countries reporting H5N1 outbreaks, 2007-09
OIE timeline of H5N1 events