A GBP3.9 million (USD7.8 million) study, launched today by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) to develop better ways of controlling bird flu aims to help the world's poorest farmers tackle avian flu and safeguard their livelihoods.
The DFID-funded research programme will examine the best ways to control avian flu and also how to reduce the impact of the disease on poor peoples’ livelihoods. The programme focuses on Africa and Southeast Asia, with initial research to be conducted in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mali and Nigeria. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) will manage the research in Africa, while in Southeast Asia the research will be managed by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Royal Veterinary College and the University of California at Berkeley.
John McDermott, ILRI’s Deputy Director General for Research, says ‘In global avian influenza discussions there are many different perspectives. This project seeks to provide evidence on the impacts and control of avian influenza from the perspectives of developing country farmers, technical staff and policy makers, to allow them to effectively make decisions of importance to them.’
The DFID-funded research programme marks a new approach as previous work has largely focused on eradicating Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) from poultry populations and preparing for a potential human pandemic.
Launching the programme today, the UK’s International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, said: ‘As well as claiming lives, avian flu – and the measures taken to control it – is damaging the livelihoods of farmers in the developing world. It is important to investigate how best to protect them when avian flu strikes.
‘This pioneering research will help find ways of helping the poor while also ensuring appropriate control measures are followed so that farmers do not hide, slaughter or eat infected birds. The first results of the study are expected within a year and will be discussed with policy makers in Africa and Asia.’
The potential impact on agriculture of the continuing spread of HPAI and the fear of this developing into a human pandemic are very great. The World Bank recently estimated that a pandemic could reduce the world’s GDP by five per cent, with a higher proportional loss in developing countries. To date, HPAI infections have claimed more than 170 lives in 12 countries since 2003 and, in South East Asia, led to the culling of more than 140 million birds with a total estimated economic loss to the region of more than $10 billion.
Jeff Mariner, senior epidemiologist at ILRI, says, ‘Although the potential of HPAI to adapt to man and cause a global pandemic is the primary concern motivating much of the donor response to this disease in the world, human disease is as yet a rare event. Very few farming communities have actually experienced human cases. The primary concern of farmers today is the negative impact that repeated waves of poultry mortality due to HPAI have on their livelihoods. Understanding the impact of HPAI in poultry on peoples’ livelihoods will provide entry points to motivate and drive effective control programmes. Enhanced control of HPAI to reduce the risk of a human pandemic is only possible through win-win scenarios that address the present effects of HPAI.’