Initiatives to control highly pathogenic avian influenza in West Africa are to be stepped up following a grant of $87 million by The United States Agency for International Development to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s animal disease control programs.

The new funding will support animal disease prevention and control work across Asia, Africa and the Middle East and, in West Africa, it will be used to boost prevention and emergency response efforts to stem the spread of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The FAO’s work in the region is aimed at eliminating the disease in the poultry sector, and building the capacity of animal health authorities and poultry producers to avoid future recurrences of the disease and economic losses.

The first incursion of H5N1 in West Africa occurred in 2006, but it was successfully eliminated within three years.

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In late 2014, however, the avian influenza was reintroduced in Nigeria, where it has since spread rapidly to Burkina Faso, Cote 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.

The funding will also be used to tackle other diseases with human health implications, including ebola and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, for which studies will be conducted to better understand any link that livestock may have in transmitting the diseases to humans.