WASHINGTON and ROME, May 19 /PRNewswire/ -- The current avian flu crisis is not only an immediate, short-term problem, it is likely to be a continuing emergency that will last several years, says Joseph Domenech, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer.
The prospect of a human pandemic aside, the damage the disease will cause to bird populations, and domestic poultry in particular, is tremendous, he warns. The knock-on effect on the poultry sector is enormous and it could deal a significant blow to local, national and regional economies.
At the local level, smallholder families dependent on chickens and other poultry for sustenance or livelihood face the prospect of losing their animals through death caused by disease or culling to prevent the disease spreading. In many countries, fear of infection is leading consumers to shy away from poultry, throwing the multimillion dollar industry into crisis.
FAO is concerned that international interest is focused almost exclusively on the possibility of avian flu hitting human populations to the neglect of its potentially devastating impact on poultry and other animals. This, argues Domenech, fails to recognize that the best way to protect people is to control and try to eradicate the disease in animals.
FAO is stressing that the international fight against avian flu must start with increased surveillance and monitoring of poultry and other animals, followed by rapid reporting of any outbreaks to the competent authorities and strict measures to limit the spread of the disease through the culling and secure disposal of sick animals and the control of movements of animals and products.
It is also urging farmers and traders, and all others who come into close contact with poultry, to be particularly careful about ensuring basic hygienic standards and to tighten up biosecurity on the farm. The movement of poultry to and from markets, and people involved in poultry production and marketing, are the main spreaders of the disease to previously unaffected areas.
The rapid spread of the disease means that FAO now needs $308 million for its contribution to the global program for the progressive control of avian influenza over the next three years -- more than twice the sum required a few months ago. To date, FAO has only received $71 million.
Of that total, the organization has spent over $20 million supplying goods and services to 87 countries: almost $10 million in laboratory and veterinary supplies and equipment; more than $6 million in human resources, including veterinarians and other experts; almost $1.5 million for training in laboratory, epidemiology and wildlife activities; over $500,000 for diagnostic reference and training, and epidemiological studies in the field; and $2 million for general operating expenses.
FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are organizing an international scientific conference on avian influenza and wild birds from 30 to 31 May in Rome to try to understand better the role of wild birds in the transmission of avian flu.
As the lead UN agency on combating avian influenza in animals, FAO will participate in a high-level avian influenza conference in Vienna from 6 to 7 June. The meeting, called by the EU presidency (Austria), the US government, the World Bank and the government of China, will bring together donors, health and agriculture ministers and other officials in affected countries, as well as international veterinary and public health experts, to follow up on the pledges and commitments made in January at a donors conference in Beijing in support of international action against avian influenza. The case of Africa will be high on the meeting's agenda.
FAO Avian Influenza website:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations