International community calls for urgent action to improve preparedness for further outbreaks of avian influenza

Discussions on avian influenza dominated this inter-governmental conference that took place from 23-27 October.



The third meeting of Parties of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement concluded its recent meeting in Dakar, Senegal with an urgent call to improve national
contingency planning related to the potential spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (subtype H5N1 — HPAI) and to work on being able to provide better
information, both at the national and the flyway level, into the debate on how to assess risks and formulate responses in relation to the inferface between wild birds and avian influenza.

Discussions on avian influenza dominated this inter-governmental conference that took place from 23-27 October. The issue was introduced to the meeting by Ward Hagemeijer of Wetlands International, speaking on behalf of the Scientific Taskforce on Avian Influenza. A number of concerns were expressed. These included:

- lack of capacity in many countries to respond adequately to the threats posed by HPAI. This relates both to those countries where outbreaks have
already occurred as well as to those regions, importantly including Africa, but also the Middle East, to which it could spread;

- potential implications for agriculture and livelihoods, notably poultry-keeping; human health; the sustainable use of wild birds (especially waterbirds); the conservation of bird species, most notably already threatened species; and the major potential economic and social impacts in those areas where migratory birds and domestic keeping of birds support the livelihoods of human populations, such as in many parts of Africa.

- the realization that the impact of HPAI in Africa will most likely be different from the impacts currently being witness in Europe and W-Asia. Whereas in Europe mostly the poultry sector is affected, causing economical losses, Africa is more likely to suffer strong direct impacts on the livelihoods of local communities, with many people keeping poultry at small scale in and around villages for direct food and income generation.

- the consequent need for assistance from the international community to developing countries in enhancing preparedness and capacity; and

- the need to urgently take forward a number of crucial research needs to allow better assessment of risk and consequent responses.

There was important acknowledgement that transference of HPAI by wild birds was just one means by which the virus appears to be spreading, and it is just as important that strong attention be given to addressing other means of actual or potential spread.

These include:

• the movement of poultry;
• (movement of) other avian livestock and cage birds;
• associated activities to service the respective industries;
• both the legal and illegal trade in birds; and
• movements of people;

However the relative importance of these different modes of spread appears to differ between countries and is maybe changing.

AEWA stressed the crucial need for accurate information on the current situation to be widely disseminated both nationally and internationally given the sometimes highly distorted views reaching the public on risk factors and necessary responses, and called for the development and implementation of programmes of education and public awareness on HPAI, especially aimed at those actually or potentially affected by outbreaks of avian influenza, in particular those engaged in outdoor activities and the poultry industry.

The Resolution, while in no way downplaying the potential severity of the situation recalls that all currently known cases of human infection with HPAI have been through contact with infected poultry rather than through contact with wild birds.

Also strongly supported were the conclusions of the World Health Organisation, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Organisation on Animal
Health, that attempts to eliminate HPAI in wild bird populations through lethal responses such as culling is not feasible and should not be attempted, not least since it may exacerbate the problem by causing further dispersion of potentially infected birds. Rather, strong biosecurity measures — such as those which successfully stamped out the outbreak of avian influence (subtype H7N7) in The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium in 2003 — should be adopted to reduce risk of cross-infection between poultry and wild birds.

In national responses, which are now urgently required to the current situation, Contracting Parties were strongly urged in their planning and execution of national response strategies to develop fully integrated planning approaches that bring together and incorporate virological, epidemiological, medical, ornithological and wildlife management expertise.

African countries were strongly urged to co-ordinate their responses to the threats posed by the spread of HPAI through the New Partnership for Africa's Development, as well as widely to disseminate the conclusions of the meeting within their countries as an important element of awareness raising.

Notes for Editors

1. The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), the largest of its kind developed so far under CMS. It was concluded on 16 June 1995 in the Hague, the Netherlands and entered into force on 1 November 1999 after the required number of at least fourteen Range States, comprising seven from Africa and seven from Eurasia had ratified. Since then the Agreement is an independent international treaty. The AEWA covers 235 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle, including many species of divers, grebes, pelicans, cormorants, herons, storks, rails, ibises, spoonbills, flamingos, ducks, swans, geese, cranes, waders, gulls, terns and even the south African penguin. The agreement covers 117 countries from Europe, parts of Asia and Canada, the Middle East and Africa. In fact, the geographical area covered by the AEWA stretches from the northern reaches of Canada and the Russian Federation to the southernmost tip of Africa. The Agreement provides for coordinated and concerted action to be taken by the Range States throughout the migration system of waterbirds to which it applies. Of the 117 Range States currently 49 and (52 countries as of 1.
October 2005) have become a Contracting Party to AEWA.

2. The third Meeting of Parties was attended by 146 representatives of 49 Contracting parties, together with 29 representatives of other range states and 12
international and national organisations concerned with the conservation and wise use of migratory waterbirds and their wetland habitats.

3. The Press Release from the Scientific Task Force on Avian of Monday 24 October can be found on the AEWA and CMS website. ( and

4. The opportunities for further information exchange provided by the Special Round-table on the spread of HPAI (19 November 2005, Nairobi, Kenya), during the next meeting of the Scientific Council of the Convention on Migratory Species was noted and strong African participation urged.

5. MoP3 Resolution 3.18 on Avian Influenza is appended.

Published: 30 Oct 2005

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