According to David Castellan, senior veterinary epidemiologist at FAO we need holistic approaches to more effectively deal with the high pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus in Asia.
Speaking at the 60th edition of the Western Poultry Diseases Conference - currently running in Sacramento, Ca - Castellan kicked off by giving the audience some eye-opening numbers. He said that 81 percent of all officially reported HPAI H5N1 events (10,521 of 12,978) in avian species since January 1st, 2004 have occured in Asia.
Insufficient data recording
As the disease has significant macro-economic effects for poultry exporting countries such as Thailand and poses a great risk for humans, effective solutions need be put in place to control the disease. But at the same time, due to so many outbreaks, data recording of the outbreaks is lacking. "We need the Animal, Time and Place data of the outbreaks to be able to link events, define the risks and to choose effective measures" Castellan emphasised in his presentation.
Addressing high-risk practices requires a comprehensive technical, social, cultural and economic approach. Castellan explained that both technical and human aspects must be addressed including a better understanding of the epidemiology, economic motivation, public-private partnerships and prevention minded restructuring of poultry production systems. Issues with technical factors include: delayed detection and poor response, lack of systematic surveillance and limited diagnostic capacity among others. Human related problems include: lack of transparency, problems with communication, limited compensation and no incentive to report. Following a "one health" approach in which animal, human and environmental agencies are working together could minimise the human and technical problems.
Vaccination is only tool
Castellan- communication specialist himself- named proper communication to local farmers a very important aspect in effective disease control. This should be focused on the women - as they are often the ones who raise the chickens or ducks in Asian countries. "The way forward requires commitment", said Castellan. "We also need to look at every situation what works best. Vaccination is only one tool to controlling HPAI H5N1 and we can not always de-populate the whole poultry farm", according to Castellan.
FAO and its partners are developing relevant communication strategies to understand and modify human behaviour at the community level. "We have learned a lot from the previous outbreaks and everyone involved should now be better prepared for future outbreaks of avian influenza", Castellan concluded.
The Western Poultry Disease runs till Wednesday 23 March and takes place in Sacramento, California. This annual event attracts around 200 poultry experts each year.