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Conference of the OIE Regional Commission for Europe - Veterinary networks for permanent surveillance and vaccination: best tools for containing bluetongue

Vilnius, 19 September 2008 - The 23rd Conference of the Regional Commission for Europe of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), held in Vilnius, Lithuania, from 15 to 19 September 2008 , concluded with a strong commitment to move forward with the establishment of regional surveillance networks for early detection and rapid response mechanisms under the strict supervision of Veterinary Services. This needs to be supported by the broad implementation of appropriate vaccination strategies against bluetongue in infected and at-risk countries, using vaccines complying with OIE standards.

Today, bluetongue is one of the most serious animal health issues affecting Europe . Historically confined to some regions of Africa and the Mediterranean Basin , different strains of the virus have been infecting regions as far north as the Balkans since 2000. Moreover, a new serotype (BTV-8) has been active for the first time in northern Europe since 2006, where it continues to spread, causing severe disease among the affected animal population.

Experience gained from controlling the disease has shown that strict movement restrictions and vaccination are the most effective prevention and control tools, as is also the case for other animal diseases.

Referring to the potential economic effects and costs of control measures, Mr Gediminas Kirkilas, Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania , stated “Prevention is better than cure”, reiterating the motto of the European Union Animal Health Strategy 2007–2013, which fully complies with OIE strategies.

In his intervention on OIE Policies and Good Governance of Veterinary Services, the Director General of the OIE, Dr Bernard Vallat, commented on the status of countries of the OIE Regional Commission for Europe regarding the programme for strengthening Veterinary Services based on OIE standards and guidelines, using the OIE-PVS Tool. He also stressed the importance of continuing the process of improving good governance at a global level using PVS follow-up mechanisms after the diagnosis provided by the initial evaluation.

The Conference also recognised that compartmentalisation – the effective separation of animal subpopulations of different health status through strict biosecurity measures – can offer the possibility of maintaining trade by demonstrating disease freedom in a selected and well-isolated subpopulation, even though the disease may be present in other parts of the country.

Historically, successful eradication programmes for bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis relied heavily on the use of biosecurity measures for the safe separation of herds, even before this became known as compartmentalisation.

A review of outbreaks of transboundary animal diseases and the work of the OIE

Over the past year, countries in the region have had to deal with outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, foot and mouth disease, classical swine fever, African swine fever, rabies and bluetongue. Participants reiterated the importance of early notification using the new OIE WAHIS system.

The most recent activities of the OIE Terrestrial and Aquatic Code Commissions and the OIE Animal Welfare Working Group were presented during the Conference. OIE partner organisations, such as the FAO and the EC, also presented updates on their activities and policies in Europe in the field of animal health as well as the results of the programmes they carry out jointly with the OIE.

All recommendations adopted by the Conference will be submitted for consideration and final adoption by all OIE Members at the next OIE General Session, in May 2009.

The Conference was kindly hosted by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania . It was chaired by Dr Lukauskas, OIE Delegate of Lithuania, with the support of the OIE Headquarters and the OIE Regional Representation for Eastern Europe .

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