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The OIE launches an appeal for the application of international standards of quality by Veterinary Services worldwide

The avian influenza virus strain that appeared in South-East Asia about two years ago is currently circulating endemically in several Asian countries that lack the tools and resources needed to implement the appropriate eradication measures. The virus has now arrived in Russia, in Eastern Europe, and is also threatening Africa, the Middle East and Western Europe. It has already been responsible for the death of millions of birds and caused over a hundred human cases of infection in Asia.

The virus rarely occurs in commercial farms, which now know how to protect themselves. Its favourite targets are to be found in villages, in family-run backyard poultry flocks, often those that come into contact with potentially infected wild aquatic birds.

Faced with this situation, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is issuing a fresh reminder of the urgent need to take into account the control of the disease at its animal source, so as to prevent a potential human pandemic. In the words of Dr Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE, "nobody can calculate the mathematical probability of a human pandemic occurring, but we know that the probability of it happening is correlated to the quantity of virus circulating in animals throughout the world".

"Our action lies within the framework of the international cooperation that has developed worldwide to fight avian influenza. The OIE is thus participating in the initiatives recently launched by the United Nations, under the leadership of its Co-ordinator, Dr David Nabarro, the World Bank, the European Union and the United States government. The Conference in Geneva (7-9 November 2005) is a concrete demonstration of this cooperation (see joint press release, dated 7 October 2005)".

The OIE considers that the action plan developed jointly by the FAO and the OIE, emphasising the importance of taking measures to reduce the presence and circulation of the virus in animals worldwide, is a priority.

"For example, for developing countries clearly experiencing serious difficulties in controlling the animal disease once it has become endemic, we are calling upon the international community to help them vaccinate all their poultry populations", says Dr Vallat.

"Furthermore", he adds, "the OIE is also advocating a series of medium-term measures that will be relatively simple to implement with private sector support, such as training livestock producers and local veterinarians so as to ensure early detection of the virus at the farm level".

The application of OIE standards on the quality of the public and private sector components of the Veterinary Services is of crucial importance to ensure early detection and a rapid response in the event of outbreaks of emerging and re emerging diseases, such as avian influenza.

The application of these standards must therefore be considered by governments and donor agencies alike as an international public good, notably in support of developing countries that lack the necessary resources to implement them. If the international community does not help them in this way, there is every likelihood of global crises associated with emerging and re emerging animal diseases frequently recurring."