Since 2005, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) through its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) has been at the forefront of the efforts to fight highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 in Côte d’Ivoire – which was confirmed in the West African nation in 2005 and again in 2015. On 10 August 2021, a recent incursion of HPAI H5N1 in 36 poultry farms in Mondoukou village in the Department of Grand-Bassam was reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The outbreak resulted in an estimated overall mortality rate of 56.7 percent – 43 410 birds out of a total estimated susceptible population of 76 613 birds.
FAO ECTAD, established in 2017 in Côte d’Ivoire, swiftly responded to increasing poultry mortality – as well as the risk of human infections resulting from HPAI – with a comprehensive and dynamic HPAI control programme in West and Central Africa. The FAO ECTAD country team provided an effective model for coordination and technical support for high-impact emerging disease control, jointly with the Ministry of Animal Resources and Fisheries (MIRAH). This facilitated the rapid development, establishment and implementation of programmes to improve the overall capacity to quickly detect, diagnose, report and respond to a disease emergency. Through FAO’s technical advice and support, MIRAH has enhanced national cooperation and promoted greater transparency in sharing disease information through the establishment of regional diagnosis and surveillance networks, in collaboration with national and regional organizations.
As a result of increased active surveillance and vigilance in high-risk zones, information on suspected outbreaks including mortalities among poultry was reported in the southeastern region of Grand-Bassam. FAO ECTAD in Côte d’Ivoire is actively supporting national counterparts in the Directorates of Veterinary Services and Laboratories. In 2021, to support Côte d’Ivoire’s response against prioritized zoonotic diseases including HPAI, FAO ECTAD reinforced the capacities of 24 staff in the areas of animal sample collection, packaging and shipment and 48 staff from 21 structures of the National One Health Platform in Good Emergency Management Practices and leadership. Furthermore, 24 field staff are being mentored under the In-Service Applied Veterinary Epidemiology Training (ISAVET) programme. To address the extremely complex disease threat of HPAI H5N1, multidisciplinary teams, including wildlife experts, epidemiologists and public-private partnership experts, have been mobilized to conduct active HPAI surveillance and investigations in farms, live bird markets and migratory wild bird resting areas, encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration on health at the human-animal-environmental interface.
FAO’s ongoing support to fight HPAI H5N1 in Côte d’Ivoire
Following the emergency request on 10 August 2021, FAO ECTAD has also actively supported the Directorate of Veterinary Services (DSV) to respond to this emergency. Recent trainees of the FAO ISAVET programme will be supporting field activities. The support provided to the DSV includes the provision of relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) for the implementation of biosecurity/biosafety measures in farms and live birds markets, and surveillance at hotspots. The provided PPE is also being used during investigations as part of the updating of risk maps, which are needed to increase the understanding of the epidemiological links to the source of this infection.
This support has been expanded to other national structures. The National Agricultural Development Support Laboratory (LANADA) has been able to detect HPAI H5N1 and is preparing to ship samples and specimens for testing and genotyping at Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Venice), the FAO Reference Centre for Animal Influenza and Newcastle Disease, located in Padua, Italy. Additionally, in response to the emergency, a set of complementary reagents and consumables were provided to LANADA through the FAO Emergency Stockpile.
Regional and global efforts to address HPAI H5N1
The understanding that HPAI H5N1 is a pathogen that causes losses in poultry, but can occasionally spread to humans and cause epidemics and pandemics, has urged decision-makers to invest in response capabilities to address this health crisis. The complexity of the drivers of infectious diseases that have such a widespread impact has added impetus to incorporating One Health principles, which promote a multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach to addressing the outbreaks. HPAI H5N1 continues to be reported in several countries, and the risk of the emergence of new outbreaks remains. Due to the emergence of other pandemics, such as COVID-19 and Ebola, the disease is under-reported and surveillance efforts are declining in most countries, particularly with a chronic shortage of financial and human resources. It is also clear that it would take several years for countries where the disease is endemic to eradicate the H5N1 virus from the poultry sector. In addition, a number of other new pathogens and diseases are emerging in the region, especially in environments where the interaction between domestic animals, wildlife and humans is increasing. It is therefore critical to put greater effort into raising awareness of the potential risks involved, particularly in light of the declining funds available for the control of HPAI and other high-impact diseases.
Since its implementation in the country, FAO ECTAD’s role and priority has been long-term capacity building to improve surveillance, early detection and response to HPAI and other high-impact priority zoonotic, endemic, emerging and re-emerging diseases, using a One Health approach to promote greater multisectoral and multidisciplinary participation.