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OIE/FAO/WHO urge more determined action against H5N1

Stronger national and international commitment needed

2 February 2007, Rome – At their annual coordination meeting on global animal health issues, senior officials of FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have expressed serious concerns that the substantial progress made in many parts of the world against avian influenza is being jeopardized by insufficiently determined and inadequately funded action in a few countries where the virus continues to circulate.

“Experience worldwide has shown that the H5N1 virus circulation can be successfully reduced in poultry if decisive action is being taken and sustained at the highest political level applying appropriate virus detection and control tools and providing necessary material and financial support,” said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General, after the meeting in Rome.

The World Health Organization underlined the importance for human health of controlling the virus in birds. “The more wide-spread the virus in birds, the more chances it has of infecting human beings, and mutating into a form which is easily transmissible between people,” said Dr. David Heymann, Representative of the WHO Director-General for Pandemic Influenza. "Increased government commitment and resources from both national and international sources are needed to reduce the risk of human exposure to H5N1 by reducing the prevalence of H5N1 infection in animals and helping the public understand the need to avoid exposure to sick chickens."

“A successful national H5N1 control campaign requires strong political and financial commitment from the whole of government. It also requires effective leadership and coordination between all ministries concerned. A national veterinary service complying with OIE international standards and a management structure that clearly defines surveillance and control tasks and responsibilities, including poultry vaccination, are prerequisites for success”, said Bernard Vallat, Director-General of OIE.

Animal experts also warned that banning smallholder and family poultry production could lead to livelihood distress and could affect vulnerable people that often depend on poultry for income and food. “Experience suggests that banning poultry production, particularly in the absence of any economic alternative , will result in illegal poultry raising making it less likely that H5N1 disease in poultry or people will be reported to authorities ” said Joseph Domenech, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer.