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Publication Date : 30-01-2013
The world risks a repeat of the bird flu outbreaks of 2006 unless surveillance and control of this and other dangerous animal diseases are strengthened globally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned yesterday.
"The continuing international economic downturn means less money is available for prevention of H5N1 bird flu and other threats of animal origin," FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth said.
"This is not only true for international organisations but also countries themselves," he said.
"Even though everyone knows that prevention is better than cure, I am worried because in the current climate governments are unable to keep up their guard."
In a statement released in Rome, the UN agency said strict vigilance was required given "large reservoirs" of the H5N1 virus in Asia and the Middle East.
"Without adequate controls, it could easily spread globally as it did at its peak in 2006, when 63 countries were affected," the statement said.
"Investing more in prevention makes economic sense given the huge toll inflicted by a full-scale pandemic.
"Between 2003 and 2011 the disease killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic chickens and ducks and caused an estimated US$20 billion of economic damage."
The statement, which followed the deaths of four Cambodians from bird flu this month, noted that H5N1 also infected over 500 people and killed more than 300 over the same period.
"I see inaction in the face of very real threats to the health of animals and people," Lubroth said.
The FAO described the current situation as "regrettable" since appropriate measures could completely eliminate H5N1 from the poultry sector.
"Domestic poultry are now virus-free in most of the 63 countries infected in 2006, including Turkey, Hong Kong, Thailand and Nigeria.
"And, after many years of hard work and international financial commitment, substantial headway is finally being made against bird flu in Indonesia."
The FAO said investing in prevention involved improving hygiene practices, market and border controls, and health security in farms and markets.
"It includes equipping laboratories and training staff to diagnose and respond to disease outbreaks, and in organising efficient extension services to serve farmers' needs.
"Despite tight budgets, international organisations should also try to do more through concerted action."
Lubroth added: "We need to come together to find ways to ensure the safety of the global food chain.The costs - and the dangers - of not acting are just too high."