Combating bird flu in developing countries

The role of applied research on
policy and technology to improve rural livelihoods

Mali; Nr Sikasso; Kapala village

The Challenge
A special challenge for developing countries is to find
solutions for preventing and controlling
highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)
that suit both commercial and
‘backyard’ chicken producers.

The Big Picture
Lessons from the HPAI experience can be
used in combating emerging infectious
disease threats of the future.

Changing agricultural systems have led to changes in disease emergence and spread that challenge existing systems of global disease surveillance and control. Consequently, the capacity of animal health institutions and the approaches they use to monitor and respond to emerging and re-emerging diseases need to evolve to continue to be effective. This implies development and adoption of risk-based approaches, economic analyses and more participatory approaches to surveillance and control by institutions at all levels.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the most recent and globally important of such emerging disease problems. This disease harms the livelihoods of poor farmers as well as commercial poultry producers and has potential to evolve into a human pandemic. Efforts are being made by many institutions to track the virus, develop vaccines and control the disease in endemic countries to prevent a global pandemic. This work is of great importance in the context of trans-boundary animal diseases, particularly those arising in developing countries whose scarce resources and capacity in disease control could lead to the spread of diseases harmful to animal and human health in other regions around the globe.

Often overlooked, but equally important, is work to mitigate the impact of both HPAI and its control in developing countries, where many millions of poor people rely on poultry for their livelihoods. Several important issues in the control and impact of HPAI in developing countries are little understood.  Research has a critical role to play in the post-emergency phase in areas where the disease has become endemic. Without sustained efforts to suppress the disease, poultry losses are high and there is the continued risk of transmission to humans. Research can identify sustainable control methods that preserve farmers’ livelihoods while also reducing the risk of a human-adapted pandemic strain evolving. Importantly, research can help target scarce resources most effectively. Research can also determine new, more efficient surveillance and control methods better suited to the socio-economic realities of poor countries today.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) proposes to work with international, regional and national organizations to develop better ways of controlling emerging infectious diseases in the following ways.

  1. Build effective emergency responses to new disease introductions. A synthesis of available best practices in emergency response, based on lessons learned in Asia and Africa, is needed to advise countries in capacity building, surveillance methods and approaches for coping with new introductions of HPAI as well as future emerging disease threats.
  2. Establish sustainable systems to cope with endemic disease. Where HPAI has become entrenched, we need risk-based disease surveillance systems that invite the participation of broad sections of civil society. The objective of such systems is to target disease control activities and to monitor the success of interventions made. Based on these risk assessments, research can provide best-bet options for controlling the disease and for monitoring and evaluating the control method that are adapted as required to given agricultural systems, including the important smallholder poultry sector. Among recent success stories in disease control are participatory disease surveillance and response as well as community-based approaches to vaccination that mobilize civil society to take up the task of preventive vaccination under the coordination of public-sector institutions.
  3. Assess economic impacts and risk management methods at farm and community levels. With an understanding of risks and economic impacts to smallholder poultry systems, researchers can help provide options for reducing risks and increasing the resilience of smallholder systems. These new options include not only improved management and disease control methods but also institutional arrangements that support on-farm and community-level control. This work will help policymakers formulate incentives for smallholder compliance with disease control programs.
  4. Ensure bio-secure markets and industries. Research can help develop market arrangements that mitigate the risk of disease spread while preserving local cultural and social traditions.

ILRI is working to help developing countries meet the challenges of bird flu effectively and equitably and within the context of global strategies. To enhance emergency response capability, ILRI is pursuing partnerships with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the African Union (AU), and national veterinary services. To cope with endemic disease problems, ILRI is planning research on risk management, market bio-security and control options conducted jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the FAO Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Facility (PPLPF). ILRI also proposes to help broaden information exchange and knowledge management on disease issues within relevant research communities and in partnership with the AU and FAO.

Preliminary steps in the process included convening a network of researchers to define the necessary research questions. This process began with a consultative meeting co-sponsored by ILRI and IFPRI in June 2006 and attended by representatives from key international institutions and affected countries. The consultative meeting is being followed-up by an email forum to disseminate the preliminary results and invite wider comment. In parallel with this activity was a rapid field assessment on the epidemiology of HPAI and the impact of emergency responses in several key countries of sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia. This process has created strong links with both policymakers and field implementers and yielded research approaches that are applied and grounded in developing-country realities. The results will further support national programs through training, capacity building and co-learning. ILRI will actively engage international research and practice networks in on-going discussions and debates.

The next steps are targeted studies with national partners to answer specific epidemiologic and control questions. These collaborative research agendas will be coordinated at the regional level to provide a coherent set of studies that facilitate learning across countries. ILRI will help establish a community of practice in knowledge sharing related to the management of emerging diseases in developing countries. In partnership with international organizations and relevant expert groups, ILRI will build a platform for research and practice in participatory disease surveillance and response to emerging infectious diseases.

To review ILRI’s latest findings, to see an article on bird flu developed jointly by ILRI and IFPRI, and to download a report on the ILRI-IFPRI bird flu consultation in Nairobi, Kenya, in June 2006, please go to:

Clearly, the challenge posed by the risk and occurrence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in developing countries is a complex, cross-sectoral, multi-faceted one. We need to identify highest-priority areas, to pool resources and expertise through regional and south-south cooperation, and to find new ways of making these partnerships highly productive. ILRI is looking for intellectual as well as financial partners with whom to conduct this work. If you are interested to collaborate or want more information, please contact any of the ILRI staff below.

Jeffrey Mariner: ILRI veterinary epidemiologist,, office: +254 20 422 3432.

Steve Staal: ILRI director of Theme 3: Enhancing Markets, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3400.

Bruce Scott: ILRI director of partnerships and communications, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3205.

John McDermott: ILRI deputy director general for research, Nairobi, +254 20 422 3207.

Carlos Seré: ILRI director general, Nairobi,, +254 20 422 3201.

2 thoughts on “Combating bird flu in developing countries

  1. I am a veterinary public health specialist,based in New Delhi. I am interested to participate in ILRI’s ongoing project on trans boundary animal diseases and zoonoses control programme.I shall be grateful, if I may be given opportunity.

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