10 December 2006
Press releases on December 8th by the Food and Animal Organization (FAO, based in Rome) of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE, based in Paris) reported positive outcomes of the 4th international avian influenza conference held December 6-8 in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
The OIE press release noted that co-organizers of the meeting included the African Union/Interafrican Bureau for Agricultural Resources (AU/IBAR), the European Union, and The Government of Mali. They pointed out that at the time of the prior (3rd) international avian influenza conference, in Beijing in January 2006, H5N1 avian influenza virus had not yet been found in any African nations. Since February of this year, however, the virus was found in poultry in multiple countries in Africa, as well as causing human infections in Egypt and Djibouti.
At the meeting in Bamako the OIE encourage the idea of “laboratory twinning”, matching currently certified OIE-reference laboratories with veterinary laboratories not yet designated as OIE-reference laboratories in developing and in transition nations. The outcome of this effort is intended to be enhanced rapid diagnostic capabilities to facilitate detection and response to avian flu outbreaks in animal populations.
The OIE also reported that several million doses of veterinary H5N1 vaccines have already been delivered to African nations in 2006. This effort has been linked to the creation of a “virtual vaccine bank” for Africa earlier in 2006 through a partnership between OIE, AU/IBAR, and the EU.
The FAO press release cited comments at the conference in Mali emphasizing the importance of defending against avian flu in Africa. The FAO Assistant Director General, Alexander Muller, was quoted as saying that Africa should be “a top priority for resources and technical assistance in the battle against avian flu”. Both the FAO and OIE releases reported pledges of approximately 475-500 million US$ by the third day of the conference.
In a related news story (Reuters) appearing on the front page of the print copy of the Middle East “Gulf News” (al Nisr publishing, wwwgulfnews) on December 9th, the World Bank’s lead livestock specialist for Africa, Francois Le Gall, was quoted as emphasizing that “Avian flu is just one of many diseases that are impacting the continent of Africa. The experts are telling us that other diseases are going to emerge or re-emerge”.
Indeed, it is clear that preparing well for avian influenza now, for example by enhancing veterinary and human public health laboratories and related human resource infrastructures, will strengthen preparedness for the new or resurgent “emerging” infectious diseases of the coming years and decades, in Africa, Asia, and globally.
Daniel R. Lucey, MD, MPH
Director, Center for Biologic Counterterrorism and Infectious Diseases
EROne Institutes, Washington Hospital Center Department of Emergency Medicine
Adjunct Professor Microbiology and Immunology, Georgetown University