Oct 26, 2016, 9:58 AM
Ebola, MERS-CoV and H5N1 avian influenza are among diseases with human health implications and pandemic potential being targeted in Africa, Middle East and Asia.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is backing FAO’s efforts at combatting pandemic animal disease threats in Asia, Africa and the Middle East with an additional $87 million in funding covering the 2015-19 period.
USAID and FAO have worked in partnership on controlling animal diseases and managing related human health threats for over a decade.
USAID financial backing for this work now amounts to $320 million since 2004.
The new funds will support monitoring and surveillance, epidemiological studies, prevention and control activities as well as improving veterinary capacities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and promoting links between animal health specialists and the public health sector.
FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva thanked the U.S. for its support and longstanding partnership.
“This shows how important transboundary diseases are for FAO and the UN system, and how much more important they will be in in the future if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
“Millions of people rely on livestock for survival, income and nutrition, and their livelihoods must be protected,” he said.
Dennis Carroll, Director of Global Health Security and Development with USAID’s Bureau for Global Health, said: “We are pleased by what our partnership with FAO for emerging pandemic threats has so far achieved, and the important contribution FAO’s work is making to the U.S. Global Health Security Agenda program to address threats posed by the natural emergence of new diseases and the intentional and/or accidental release of dangerous pathogens.
“The latest USAID contribution of $87 million to FAO will further strengthen the program and partnership between our two organizations, and build upon the good work already underway in the second phase of the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats program (EPT-2). Nearly $50 million of this contribution will support the global fight against the Ebola virus by building global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to future outbreaks and prevent them from becoming epidemics.”
Unravelling disease dynamics for better prevention and control
The new USAID funding will enable FAO to conduct studies in West and East Africa to identify potential reservoirs of carriers of Ebola, and Ebola-like diseases, and shed light on the possible role of livestock, if any, in transmitting the disease.
Meanwhile, better understanding the epidemiology of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) will be the focus of activities in the Horn of Africa and the Near East.
Although MERS-CoV is not known to spread easily from person to person under normal circumstance, its animal origin means that prevention of animal-to-human transmissions must be a key element in stopping the emergence of a strain with epidemic potential.
But such efforts are hampered by knowledge gaps regarding where the virus is present, which animals are affected, how livestock production and marketing might factor in to transmission, as well as the role of wild animals.
In West Africa, the funding will give a boost to FAO prevention and emergency response efforts to stem the spread of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza – known to have caused human disease and fatalities – through prevention, detection and control efforts aimed at eliminating the disease in the poultry sector and building the capacity of animal health authorities and poultry producers to avoid future recurrences and economic losses.
The first incursion of H5N1 in West Africa occurred in 2006, but it was successfully eliminated within three years.
In late 2014 the virus was reintroduced in Nigeria, where it has since spread rapidly to Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Niger with more than 2.5 million birds culled or dead from the virus.
With outbreaks recently detected in Ghana, FAO is concerned that without a region-spanning effort to contain and stamp it out, H5N1 could expand to other countries in the region.
FAO is also leveraging the USAID support to launch a new “Africa Livestock Futures” programme spanning the entire sub-Saharan region that will analyse trends in the livestock sector and help countries pre-empt associated health threats and environmental impacts.
In Asia, the new USAID funding will reinforce ongoing FAO programs that monitor and prevent high impact pathogenic animal infectious agents-specifically influenza A, coronaviruses, and henipaviruses–and work to minimize the role of agriculture in the ever-increasing threat of anti-microbial resistant microorganisms.
An evolving and intensifying global disease landscape
Over the past several decades, population growth, agricultural expansion, and the rise of globe-spanning food supply chains have dramatically altered how diseases emerge, jump species boundaries, and spread, FAO studies have shown.
This is why the Organization backs a “One Health” approach that seeks to manage disease threats at the animal-human-environment interface in a more holistic way.