ROME – Support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s (F.A.O.'s) efforts to combat highly pathogenic avian influenza (H.P.A.I.) and other emerging infectious diseases is being renewed by the United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.). U.S.A.I.D'.s commitment is US$26.3 million from October 2011 to September 2012.

F.A.O. technical assistance to strengthen H.P.A.I. surveillance and outbreak response capacities in priority countries and regions where the disease still persists and continues to kill people, impact poultry production and undermine the food security of millions of poor farmers will be supported by these funds. Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam are among the priority countries.

This funding will also help strengthen animal health laboratory capacities, as well as animal surveillance and response capacities in ‘hot-spot' regions in order to combat other emerging disease threats, in addition to H.P.A.I.

"This new funding marks the continuation of an F.A.O.-U.S.A.I.D. partnership, which has been at the forefront in the battle to prevent and control H.P.A.I. and other transboundary animal diseases and zoonoses," said Juan Lubroth, F.A.O.'s chief veterinary officer. "The partnership began in 2005, at the outset of the HPAI emergency and has continued over the past five years through the commitment by U.S.A.I.D. of US$132.5 million, benefiting more than 90 countries worldwide, more than 60 of which were ultimately affected by H.P.A.I."

This joint effort helped restrict H.P.A.I. in a small number of countries, where the virus is entrenched in some ecosystems, as well as to other Asian countries experiencing intermittent outbreaks. Both organizations achieved this by assisting national veterinary services to develop preparedness and contingency plans, improve surveillance systems, acquire laboratory resources and disease diagnosis capacity, develop response capabilities, promote biosecurity along the value chain and support public-private cooperation.

This enhanced capacity of veterinary services worldwide serves as the foundation for the preparedness and prevention of other emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, as well, according to F.A.O.

Early identification and prevention of dangerous pathogens circulating in animals is necessary to limit threats posed to human lives, livestock, food and income security of urban consumers and rural communities, as well as to minimize trade impacts.

Earlier this year, U.S.A.I.D. launched its Emerging Pandemic Threats (E.P.T.) program in order to aggressively pre-empt or control diseases that could spark future pandemics. The E.P.T. Program comprises four tracks: predict, respond, identify and prevent. F.A.O. is receiving funds under the identify track, which aims to develop laboratory networks and strengthen diagnostic capacities in geographic hotspots to counter emergent diseases. This work will be carried out in partnership with the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.

"The challenge now before us is to build emergency response platforms that can also trace and address infectious disease events at the level of root causes or drivers," Lubroth said. "This includes identifying the drivers of disease emergence, assessing disease impacts, and utilizing insights and experience from past disease events to better prepare for, prevent and swiftly respond to potential pandemics."