Southern Africa: SADC Updates Bird Flu Disaster Response Plan

Southern African countries, jolted by a debilitating avian influenza outbreak in 2017, which left an extensive effect on the region including in Zimbabwe, have reviewed and updated the regional preparedness and response plan, which is expected to guide management and control of the disease.

The region first experienced the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) — commonly referred to as bird flu – last year, which resulted in huge economic losses and threat to livelihoods, food and nutrition security.

The proposed plan, validated by countries at a meeting in South Africa, gives guidance on regional preparedness, response and control options and coordination mechanisms at regional and national level.

In a speech read on his behalf by Lewis Hove, FAO Representative to South Africa, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri said the plan was a result of a series of meetings held over the course of last year, where the need to update the existing document was underlined.

“Through a collaborative process, the plan has now been updated. I hope that the plan, whose successful implementation will depend on the capacity and sincere participation of all stakeholders, will support the Sadc Secretariat and member states’ efforts in controlling Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N8,” said Mr Phiri.

Mr Phiri assured representatives from the regional member states that FAO remained committed to supporting efforts to control and ultimately eradicate highly pathogenic influenza H5N8 from the region.

“As such, we will continue to work closely with governments, regional and international partners, private sector players to create awareness on emerging disease threats and to provide support to countries; as part of our overall efforts to end world hunger and to ensure food security for all,” added Mr Phiri.

Mr Phiri said that FAO would continue its efforts to mobilise resources to support, as much as possible, the successful implementation of the regional HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan, of which the final product will contribute to the FAO global wealth of knowledge.

Sadc representative Gaolathe Thobokwe, said the plan was essential in making sure the SADC region was ready to deal with future outbreaks.

He added that there was a need to take preparedness to a more serious level and that prompt and concerted efforts by the Member States was crucial in containing a transboundary disease of this nature.

The region’s preparedness to control transboundary animal and plant pests and diseases continues at the front burner as Southern Africa witnesses the emergence and re-emergence of these threats.

One most recent threat is the emergence of listeriosis in South Africa, which has huge potential to dampen regional trade and food and nutrition security. Listeria bacteria cause the disease that has recently spread through storage and consumption of processed cold meats.

Region continues to face disease outbreaks dealing a huge blow to food security and trade

Bird flu outbreaks have far-reaching negative impacts on commercial poultry production in Southern Africa, as the sector has grown significantly in recent years, employing hundreds of thousands of people.

In the SADC Region, Avian Influenza has so far hit the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The disease was mainly identified on large commercial farms, where systems to monitor outbreaks are more readily in place compared to smallholder and backyard producers.

The poultry sector is crucial in the region because poultry meat and eggs provide affordable sources of high-quality animal protein, and therefore contributes to the food and nutrition security needs of millions of people in the region.

Poultry production also provides a vital source of income and a safety net for hundreds of thousands of people, particularly rural women and youth.

Avian Influenza is a respiratory disease of birds caused by a virus, which occurs in low and high pathogenic varieties.

Whereas outbreaks of low pathogenic avian influenza are common and easily controlled, the highly pathogenic versions are more serious due to high mortality rates in affected birds.

The disease is spread by direct contact between healthy and infected birds or through indirect contact with contaminated equipment or other materials.

Most outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza are linked to movements of poultry, poultry manure, poultry by-products and accidental transfer of infected material such as bird droppings, bedding straw or soil on vehicles, equipment, cages or egg flats, clothes and shoes.

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