Thursday, 23 October 2008

AVIAN FLU: NEW APPROACH NEEDED

By IAN SCOONES, STEPS Centre co-director

As ministers of health and agriculture from around the world gather in Egypt for the International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, the STEPS Centre, based at IDS and SPRU, launches an important new report exploring the lessons of the international response to avian influenza over the past five years.

The international response to avian influenza has been unprecedented – involving agencies across the UN system, the World Bank, the European Commission, bilateral donors together with national governments.

Over two billion poultry have been culled, major poultry vaccination campaigns have been implemented and markets have been restructured, affecting the livelihoods and businesses of millions. Substantial efforts have been invested in improving human and animal health systems, combined with major investments in drug and vaccine development. And detailed contingency and preparedness plans have been devised in case a human pandemic occurs.

Fortunately a pandemic has not occurred yet, although the avian virus has become endemic in a number of countries. But some time, some where a new, emerging infectious disease will have major impacts, given changing disease ecologies, patterns of urbanisation and climate change. How can the world be ready for such an event?

At the Egypt conference a ‘One World, One Health’ initiative is being launched, focusing on animal, human and ecosystem health in an integrated way. This is a radical departure from the conventional sectoral approaches to health. It is essential, but presents many challenges – disciplinary and organisational silos may act against it.

The new report - The International Response to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Science, Policy and Politics - lays out ten key challenges for a One World, One Health approach. These include rethinking surveillance, focusing on uncertainties, redefining health security, emphasising access and equity, as well as questions of organisational architecture and governance.

These themes are central to the STEPS Centre Epidemics programme on ecology, politics, policy and pathways, and are being explored as part of a project on avian influenza policy responses in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, in collaboration with the FAO.

A press release on the publication of our new report is available.

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