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FAO strengthens readiness to manage a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

July 16, 2021

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with  WHO and One Health Ministries, Departments Agencies ( Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry Water and Marine Resources, Office of National Security, Research and Universities) under the coordination of the One Health Secretariat , organized a table-top Simulation exercise and reviewed the Preparedness and Response Plan for the prevention and control of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Sierra Leone.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, a highly contagious viral disease affecting birds and humans, remains a global challenge. Since its widespread re-emergence in 2003, outbreaks threatening human health have occurred in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.  In December 2020, there was a resurgence of HPAI H5N1 in West Africa with confirmed outbreaks in Senegal and Mauritania in January 2021 as well as Nigeria in April 2021. To date, Sierra Leone has never reported or confirmed HPAI in animals or humans, but it is considered to be at high risk. Therefore, Zoonotic Influenza (avian and swine) is among the top six Priority Zoonotic Diseases (PZDs) in the country. An outbreak of HPAI in the country would devastate the poultry industry and highly impact on livelihoods and food security as well as put a strain on the health sector, already overwhelmed by COVID-19 and Ebola outbreaks in neighbouring Guinea, as well as other infectious diseases.

In In order to strengthen preparedness and response capacity for HPAI in Sierra Leone, FAO with funding support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under their Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) portfolio, provided technical and logistical support to conduct a table-top simulation exercise to test the country’s preparedness and response plan for HPAI using a One Health approach. The table-top simulation exercise and review of the Preparedness and Response Plan for the prevention and control of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza was held from 21to 25 June 2021 in Makeni Bombali and involved multiple sectors, agencies and disciplines representing animal health, public health, environment (including wildlife), the Office of National Security, academia, research and partners. The simulation exercise tested the capacity and capability of the animal and public health systems to prevent, detect, respond and recover from a potential HPAI outbreak, in accordance with recommended regional and international guidelines for HPAI preparedness and response. The revised Preparedness Plan will help the country to prevent and control incursions of avian and pandemic Influenza. Speaking at the workshop, the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Salamu Saidu, thanked FAO for its support in revising the HPAI Response plan, as the country is at high risk since the disease has recently devastated the poultry sector in neighbouring West Africa countries, including Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal since January 2021. Kadijatu Nabiu Kamara, representing Ministry of Health and Sanitation thanked FAO for continuing to strengthen Health Security emergencies in the country. Avian influenza is a major risk. Simulation will strengthen the countries preparedness capacity. FAO Representative, Bridget Kamara said that “HPAI continues to be a global challenge. Sierra Leone is fortunate not to have experienced any outbreaks. The Simulation exercise will strengthen the countries preparedness and response capacity’’. WHO Representative, Claudette Amuzu, stressed the importance of conducting the simulation exercise, especially at this time when avian influenza outbreaks have been reported in in the West Africa Region. “It is important that we test the capacity and capability of our public and animal health systems to prevent, detect and respond to a potential HPAI outbreak” she said. The risk of potential spread of avian and human pandemic influenza in Sierra Leone has been anticipated since 2005, when outbreaks of the human-threatening H5N1 subtype affected many countries across the globe, including the West African sub-region. Sierra Leone was considered a high-risk country for the introduction of HPAI because it is on the migratory wild bird route (Eastern Atlantic migratory wild birds’ flyway) from Asia through Europe to South Africa. The country also has many swamps and water bodies and it is a major destination for migratory birds. In view of this, Sierra Leone developed an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan for the Prevention and Control of Avian and Human Influenza in 2006. The current plan is old and outdated and many participants were not aware of its existence. Besides, the HPAI plan was developed in 2005, before the country endorsed a One Health approach, so this plan does not include this approach or its implementing structures.

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