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Control of avian flu

Since December 2003, the H5N1 form of avian influenza has swept across Asia into parts of Europe and Africa, which according to the WHO, has been "unprecedented in scale and geographical spread". Amidst concerns about the rapid spread of the virus, there is still plenty to be determined in terms of the best methods of control and protection. In Africa, poor small-scale backyard poultry keepers who depend on birds to provide an income and food, are likely to be the most affected.

Lessons about better preparedness, monitoring and surveillance and control of avian flu can be learnt from countries in Asia that have already had to deal with the devastating impacts of the disease. But for each country, there are important considerations that have to be taken into account which will decide how effectively the disease is reported and then dealt with. For instance, is there a plan to provide compensation to those who have lost their birds? Is it better to vaccinate or kill infected poultry? To discuss these questions among others, a consultation was held in Nairobi, Kenya from 29th to 31st June 2006. The consultation entitled 'The research communities response to avian influenza, with special reference to developing countries', was attended by over 50 experts in genetics, epidemiology, social science and veterinary science. Some of their viewpoints, including identifying short-term needs are provided below:


Preparedness is a number of things. One is raising the level of public awareness of the disease issue, and making sure that all aspects of your laboratory system, your surveillance is robust. And also developing an emergency resource plan which encompasses a number of agencies that deal with animal health crisis.
Dr Linda Logan, USDA - APHIS, Egypt

What we would like to see is more funding being made available for preparedness and in the end prevention is often more cost effective than cure. At the moment there is some money available for Avian Influenza, but there is still a big shortfall between what has been pledged and what has been delivered.
Dr Delia Grace, ILRI, Kenya

In Kenya we have sensitised and trained the public using radio. Once the community agrees with you and is not suspicious, you will go a long way. We have also done a lot of capacity building in our laboratories. The government organisational structure has assisted us. It goes all the way down to the grass roots, so whatever we plan, we hand it down to the provinces and district staff.
Dr Catherine Wanjohi, Department of Veterinary Service, Kenya

In China we have learnt lessons from SARS. We did not know about SARS and our preparedness plans were not very exact. For Avian Influenza we have established the emergency plans for the disease very well. We have established a relatively strong surveillance plan at central, provincial and regional level, incorporating three thousand laboratories.
Dr Boaxu Huang, Qingdao Epidemiology Centre, China

It's nice to say that we should be prepared, but the plan has to relate to the reality on the ground here. We should provide the training and funds that might be required at district veterinary officer level, or the community level. We should also seriously think - do we really have enough laboratory capacity today to carry out all this work if there is a major outbreak?
Dr Olivier Hanotte, ILRI, Kenya.

Migration or trade?

Effectively communicating risks to the people who are involved with that movement of poultry and poultry products would help to improve the situation. Many countries will have trade barriers in place to try and prevent that but of course the issue is illegal trade. Traders need to be increasingly aware that it is possible to trace back, to determine exactly where contaminated products and poultry have come from.
Dr Robyn Alders, Kyeema Foundation, Mozambique

We have very little if any information about which birds are being affected and that is a problem for us. There is a genetic factor in this. Are backyard chickens the same as commercial chickens? That could really help us to understand if the problem is really commercial or more a problem of local birds catching the virus from outside.
Dr Olivier Hanotte, ILRI, Kenya

We have genetic evidence that migratory birds are playing a role in our particular case in South Africa. Whether H5N1 will become established in the species that visit South Africa remains to be seen but obviously illegal traders are a very worrying issue for us.
Dr Celia Abolnik, Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, Pretoria, South Africa

Culling or vaccination?

There is the risk that birds are vaccinated with the assumption that they are therefore protected from infection and there is no longer any shedding of virus into the environment. This is not necessarily the case. So the vaccination strategy is a slightly dangerous one. Maybe this can be implemented to control spread in areas where there is infection. But as a mechanism to prevent infection - I think is not appropriate at the moment. So I guess we are stuck with culling.
Dr John Williams, Parco Tecnologico, Italy

I think it depends on whether the disease is endemic in the country - that is whether it is in a population of birds that can be culled. For example, if a disease is prevalent in wild birds, then stamping out does not make sense because there is always the risk of reintroduction. I think it has been shown that a combination of vaccination and stamping out is the most cost effective approach.
Dr Celia Abolnik, Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, Pretoria, South Africa

It would be great if a vaccination could work and be effective, but there are a lot of questions that are still being asked. Is it efficient, and how can the differences between vaccinated and infected chickens be detected?
Dr Amos Omore, ILRI, Kenya

You could argue that the commercial setting is ideal for the propagation of the virus because you have a very large number of birds in a confined environment. Can we afford to have birds in the population which may be carrying the virus and which will be eaten by people? It's difficult.
Dr Olivier Hanotte, ILRI, Kenya.

Vaccination is very much an issue we are still debating in India. One issue is definitely the efficiency of the vaccination. Another issues is whether the vaccination can be given in particular areas, where poultry farms are surrounded by water where migratory birds normally visit. So those could be strategic areas.
Dr S.K. Bandyophadyay, Animal Husbandry Commission, India


If there are no incentives people do not report. In Egypt, backyard flocks have been outlawed, so people are maintaining their poultry under their beds. And the women who have become infected, have all been women who have had poultry in their house because they are hiding birds from government officials.
Dr Linda Logan, USDA - APHIS, Egypt

In Nigeria, government policy is not to pay full compensation for the cost or value of the birds lost. And it is limited only to flocks that are detected, diagnosed and then slaughtered. This is a problem. Some farmers would rather sell out: compensation will be lower than what they can sell for. How is the government going to afford full compensation? One option is if there is an insurance policy which the farmers associations themselves could support, together with global support.
Professor Daniel Adene, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

In India, the compensation policy that we have adopted so far may need certain modifications. For example, we have not considered compensating for the compulsory destruction of the poultry feed which is stored in the poultry houses. Also there are lots of eggs which we have had to destroy during the depopulation - but we did not have much of a compensation package for the loss of eggs.
Dr S.K. Bandyophadyay, Animal Husbandry Commission, India

I think it is difficult to put a value on things that people value differently. Some people think in economic ways and some people think in social. We know the virus is always going to be there, it is not going to run away. But we are depriving people of proteins, giving them money which they might spend otherwise - so it is a very complicated issue.
Dr Mohammed Husenni Omar, Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, USA

The reality in Africa is if you help women, we can help the whole of society. Women are more concerned about children and the life of the society. It will not be easy to compensate women, because the head of the family is the man. He will say: "yes, these are my birds, my chickens, so you have to give me the money." Even if the woman receives the money, she gives it to the man.
Dr E.Fallou Gueye, Family Poultry Network, Senegal

What are the short-term priority needs?

I think we need to have a better understanding of how this disease comes into a new population. How does it propagate in this population and how does it spread. So far we don't have that knowledge and we are relying on luck to control it. Unless we have a way to predict what is going to happen next today's knowledge wouldn't mean anything.
Dr Mohammed Hussni Omar, Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine, USA

The priority need is diagnostics. Collecting samples with the cooperation of farmers, which is not an easy task. To get samples very quickly, to make diagnosis and to sensitise local authorities to have certain dosages of the vaccine available.
Dr E.Fallou Gueye, Family Poultry Network, Senegal

There has been a lot of focus on the virus and perhaps less focus on the host animals. Controlling viral spread is going to come from both understanding the virus but also understanding the host.
Dr John Williams, Parco Tecnologico, Italy

There has been a lot of response, the problem isn't always response but it is appropriateness. I think what research can really contribute is an evidence base so that people aren't just rushing out and doing things, they are doing the right things and the things which are going to make a difference to the problem.
Dr Delia Grace, ILRI

The priorities are to monitor the wild and the local birds so that we know exactly if and when HPAI, H5N1 enters South Africa. We think that the wild birds could be good early warning systems. We know that our low pathogenic strains of Influenza viruses, are entering the country probably though migratory birds. The infection is picked up by the local ducks and geese which become reservoirs, and these are the birds that have potential contact with our local poultry.
Dr Celia Abolnik, Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, Pretoria, South Africa

Date published: July 2006


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