The FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) has released a 97 page document that updates us on the status of Highly Pathogenic H5N1 around the world, and also lays out a strategy that perhaps – someday – will lead to its eradication or control.
FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 171:
There is a wealth of information here, focused particularly on the history, spread, and evolution of the virus in the 6 regions where the virus is well entrenched.
A few excerpts below (slightly reformatted for readability), but follow the above links to download and read the entire document.
In the Foreword, the problem is summed up as follows:
Currently, there are at least six countries – Bangladesh, the People’s Republic of China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Viet Nam – where the virus is entrenched, and a number of other countries experiencing sporadic outbreaks.
It is expected that for most of the endemic countries and their affected regions, it will take several years, if not decades, to achieve freedom from the virus.
From the executive summary, the report identifies three main factors that have thwarted the elimination of H5N1 from these regions.
The first factor is the structure of the poultry sector. Endemically infected countries generally have the following characteristics, caused in part by the rapid increase in demand for poultry and the unregulated growth of the poultry sector:
- Production and market chains are complex and poorly integrated, with a large demand for locally produced poultry and poultry products.
- A high proportion of poultry are reared and sold under conditions that afford little protection from influenza viruses.
- A significant proportion of the poultry in the country/subregion, such as domestic ducks and poultry in infected markets and collectors yards do not display symptoms of the disease when infected.
- Supporting institutions such as producer and service provider associations are weak.
The second factor is the quality of public and private veterinary and animal production services, which have limited capacity to identify and respond to all cases of infection, fully understand the drivers of value chains and implement needed changes to production and marketing systems.
The capacity for systematic outbreak investigation is inadequate and disease investigations and tracing rarely identify the source(s) of infection.
The third factor is the level of commitment within the poultry sector, governments and the public towards the elimination of H5N1 HPAI viruses. The fear of H5N1 HPAI does not necessarily translate into concrete plans for virus control and elimination.
Looking forward, the task of controlling H5N1 is viewed as a difficult one, and a battle that will not be quickly won. And as with many other vital programs during this period of economic distress, continued funding is a serious concern.
Realistic goals for the next five years
Each endemically infected country will be encouraged to develop pathways showing how it intends to progressively control H5N1 HPAI and move towards virus elimination.
It is very unlikely that any of the endemically infected countries or subregions will eliminate H5N1 HPAI in the next five to ten years, because it will take many years for all constraining factors to be overcome and the necessary preventive measures introduced universally.
However some infection-free zones and compartments could be established and their status confirmed through on-going surveillance studies and disease investigations. This is already possible in parts of Indonesia and the People’s Republic of China.
Given the challenges and the need for long-term support, sustainable funding, at least at the current level, will be crucial for the next five years to achieve progressive control.
Successful elimination of the H5N1 HPAI virus in the poultry sector will have to move forward towards improved control and prevention of other livestock diseases and emerging infectious diseases (EIDs).