While most countries have managed to stamp out bird flu, eliminating the virus from poultry in the six countries where it remains endemic will take at least 10 years, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says in a new report.
The H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1 HPAI), which was reported in 60 countries at its peak in 2006, remains “firmly entrenched” in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Viet Nam, according to the Rome-based agency.
FAO’s report attributes this to three factors: the structure of their national poultry sectors; the quality of public and private veterinary and animal production services, which are not always able to detect and respond to infections; and the level of commitment to dealing vigorously with the H5N1 virus.
“The fear of H5N1 does not necessarily translate into concrete plans for virus control and elimination,” states the report, entitled “Approaches to Controlling, Preventing and Eliminating H5N1 HPAI in Endemic Countries.”
The report outlines measures that each of the six endemic countries should take over the next five years to move them towards virus elimination, including in the areas of outbreak control and response, gathering and analysing information, and disease prevention and risk reduction.
“The recommendations, which are based on lessons learned over the last seven years, are tailored to account for local differences in the poultry sector of each country, the stage of development of the country’s H5N1 HPAI programme, and national socio-political characteristics,” said FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth.
“Each activity has clear objectives to enable measurement of progress and to ensure that countries remain focused on the goal of virus elimination. And it should also be noted that all the activities proposed develop capacity for handling other emerging and re-emerging diseases,” he added.
The report also calls for a sustained commitment to eradication efforts both by governments where the disease remains endemic and by international donors.
FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) advocate a medium- to long-term approach, rather than just an emergency response, to eliminate the infection from countries where the H5N1 virus is endemic.
This includes building capacity, such as better functioning veterinary services; adjusting the poultry sector to reduce the risks of disease and infection; and sustained political commitment.
During the 2006 outbreak, H5N1 killed almost 300 people, killed or forced the culling of more than 260 million birds, caused an estimated $20 billion in economic damage across the globe and devastated livelihoods at the family-farm level.