Bamako avian influenza meeting: a successful outcome

The fourth international conference on Avian influenza ended today in Bamako ( Mali ) after three days of work.

Co-organized by the AU/IBAR (African Union/Interafrican bureau for agricultural resources), the European Union and the Government of Mali (with the technical support of the OIE), the conference came as a result of the commitment taken in Vienna earlier this year by all parties involved in the fight against avian influenza to focus on the needs of Africa.

International organizations, governments of Member Countries and key international donors shared their experiences in the control and prevention of avian influenza while also presenting an up-date on the financial resources that have already been disbursed and on those that are still needed in order to be able to control the disease worldwide and to prevent a possible pandemic.

At the pledging session on the third day of the conference, close to 500 million US$ were pledged.

“At the time of the Beijing meeting Africa was not yet infected and the pledging then did not include enough resources for disease control policies for the continent. In Vienna the OIE stressed the need for the international community to take rapid action in the control of the evolving situation in poultry in Africa and I am particularly pleased to see that at this meeting Africa and the international community made a big step forward”, the Director General of the OIE, Dr Bernard Vallat said commenting on the outcomes of the meeting.

During the special audience granted by his Excellency the President of Mali, Dr. Vallat commented on the success of the conference and thanked him for the efforts of the government of Mali which contributed to this success.

The ALive Platform: an optimal coordination mechanism for Africa

The overall presence and the importance of backyard poultry, the close proximity between poultry and people, the lack of resources and appropriate governance in compliance with OIE standards on the quality of the veterinary services as well as the lack of proper compensation mechanisms make the efforts for the prevention and the control of avian influenza in Africa particularly difficult.

But African countries have shown a high degree of commitment and have put in place effective measures to facilitate the prevention and the control of avian and human influenza since the disease first hit the continent in February 2006. The efforts made to date have been acknowledged, but further work on improving response capacity and coordinated preparedness is needed.

In this context, the ALive Platform which has been developed by the World Bank together with its partners including OIE, FAO and AU/IBAR, was identified by all participants of the conference as an optimal coordination mechanism not only for the fight against avian influenza but also for the prevention of future emerging and re-emerging animal diseases.

Thanks to the survey made by ALive with the support of FAO, OIE, AU/IBAR, WHO and UNICEF for the conference, all the needs for Africa – including those for subregional organizations were presented with regard to animal health, public health and communication.

The assessment of financial needs presented under the ALive platform for the prevention and control of avian influenza in animals was estimated to be of around 720,000,000 US $ over three years.

“These funds are necessary to set up strategies for the fight against avian influenza in poultry tailored to African countries. The most effective way for detecting and responding to animal diseases, including zoonoses, is to ensure and support good governance in animal health services in Member Countries”, Dr Vallat explained. “The OIE has therefore embarked on a unique strategic initiative to assist countries identify weaknesses in their veterinary services, making it difficult for them to comply with OIE quality standards and as a result to prevent and face animal diseases, such as avian influenza”.

Virtual vaccine bank for Africa  

Considering the complexity of setting up an avian influenza strategy particularly in Africa , early this year the OIE in direct partnership with the AU/IBAR and the European Commission has established a virtual vaccine bank for Africa to rapidly assist countries who would have to vaccinate poultry populations at risk.

While vaccination is not to be considered the only tool in the fight against avian influenza, it certainly has proven to be effective in eradication campaigns in Africa and other regions of the world. The existence of such a bank allows for the immediate deployment from the provider to any area affected or at risk.

Using this mechanism, several million doses of H5N1 vaccines have already been delivered to different African countries. 

Scientific capacity building needed

The conference also stressed the need for rapid diagnostic capabilities in supporting early detection and rapid response. The lack of sufficient diagnostic and reference laboratory capabilities in Africa further exacerbate that problem.

To overcome this deficiency, the OIE presented its concept of “laboratory twinning” as an integrated concept to improve capacity building in veterinary laboratories in developing and in transition countries. The main objective of twinning is for existing OIE reference laboratories to assist directly laboratories under the OIE auspices to strengthen their diagnostic capability and scientific expertise and to eventually become OIE reference laboratories in their own right.

“I was encouraged by the rapid and positive response by Member Countries and donors to the support of this concept and I am confident not only that twinning will soon begin but that African countries will greatly benefit from that”, Dr Vallat commented.