Eliminating the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus from poultry in the six countries where it remains endemic will take ten or more years, according to a new Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report.
Currently, the virus is an established issue in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam; at its peak in 2006, H5N1 was reported in 60 countries. The report makes specific recommendations for each country regarding measures that should be taken over the next five years to move them towards virus elimination, and calls for a commitment to eradication efforts both by governments where the disease remains endemic and by international donors.
According to the report, three factors are contributing to H5N1's existence in the five affected countries:
- The structure of their national poultry sectors. Endemically infected countries usually feature complex production and market chains, with poultry reared and sold under conditions that afford little protection from influenza viruses, and weak producer and service provider associations for supporting farmers.
- The quality of public and private veterinary and animal production services, which are not always able to detect and respond to infections — or identify and correct underlying structural problems in production and marketing systems.
- The level of commitment to dealing with H5N1. "The fear of H5N1 does not necessarily translate into concrete plans for virus control and elimination," said the report.
The report's country-specific plans for eradication focus on outbreak control and response, gathering and analyzing information and disease prevention and risk reduction. "Each activity has clear objectives to enable measurement of progress and to ensure that countries remain focused on the goal of virus elimination," said FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth. "And it should also be noted that all the activities proposed develop capacity for handling other emerging and re-emerging diseases."