With breaking news about new cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) coming out of China, questions arise again about how this disease is transmitted and what can be done to prevent future outbreaks. While the Chinese government has heightened disease detection efforts and increased prevention, control, and communications efforts in response to the recently reported cases, a strong global response is also necessary to control the spread of this disease. IFPRI researchers, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute, have spearheaded a research program focused on the patterns and determinants of the spread of the disease, the economic impacts of an HPAI outbreak on different populations, and cost-effective HPAI control and prevention strategies.

The program's research has found that in developing countries in particular, conventional approaches to disease control and prevention may not always work in the case of avian influenza. Considerable knowledge gaps remain regarding how the disease spreads, as well as the timing, extent, and severity of potential outbreaks. But as the ongoing developments in China show, at-risk countries are faced with critical decisions about how to defend against and recover from a potential outbreak of avian influenza. So filling these gaps in knowledge is essential.

By examining HPAI outbreaks and risks in five developing countries, program researchers have come up with an extensive list of strategies and policies to increase awareness of how HPAI is spread, how the disease impacts both health and economic outcomes, and what steps can be taken to prevent a widespread outbreak. These include:

  • strengthening surveillance, reporting, and early detection policies and improving reporting and response systems
  • standardizing the definition of poultry production systems both within a country and across countries
  • providing strategic, cost-effective vaccination programs
  • investing in veterinary laboratory capabilities, including the training and deployment of community veterinary health workers
  • improving biosecurity measures at both the farm and market levels, including proper sanitation processes, packaging processes, and storage
  • improving education and communication campaigns to teach people about HPAI and alert populations to a potential outbreak

It is also crucial that such programs be tailored to local situations in order to be cost-effective and socially equitable. For example, culling of potentially infected birds needs to be performed in a sustainable manner with proper compensation schemes in place so that poor farmers are more willing to engage in this disease-reduction strategy.

Read all IFPRI publications related to HPAI.

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