Bonn, 23 May 2008 - The CMS-FAO Task Force on Avian Influenza today organised an international seminar at the Zoological Research Institute and Museum Alexander Koenig during the UN Conference on Biodiversity. Participants heard key lessons from an assessment of recent outbreaks of 'bird flu' or avian influenza H5N1. These conclusions were drawn from a world-wide assessment of responses to recent outbreaks of H5N1.
CMS Executive Secretary Robert Hepworth said: "The report stresses the wide range of actions that need to be taken to halt the spread of this virus. It is important that balanced national responses are undertaken to address the wide range of mechanisms thorough which the virus has spread. The meeting condemned the continued misguided practice of actively killing wild birds and destroying their nest sites and wetland habitats in response to, or in avoidance of, infection within a country, which is contrary to the recommendations of many international bodies. Such approaches to the prevention or control of avian influenza are wasteful, damaging to conservation and have no real scientific basis. They may also exacerbate the problem by causing further dispersion of infected birds."
In order to respond effectively to the spread of H5N1, it is critical that responses to the spread of this disease are 'ioined-up', both internationally (between countries), nationally (within governments), and scientifically (between different scientific disciplines). Central to effective responses is the close and integrated working of the governmental and non-governmental sectors, bringing together complementary expertise of epidemiologists, veterinarians, virologists, biologists and ornithologists. Guidance on how to respond to the continued spread of avian influenza will be given in the document published by the Scientific Task Force that will be tabled at the forthcoming conferences of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands later this year, as well as the CMS Conference of the Parties in Rome in December.
The workshop noted that different mechanisms have been responsible for the spread of HPAI H5N1 at different times and places. Experience has demonstrated the critical need for epidemiological investigations following infection to determine causes of infection. Such investigations help government decision-makers restrict the further spread of the virus through a better understanding of how the infection spreads.
The development of an international surveillance and 'early warning system' for HPAI is important. This should aim to share data and information a between researchers and decision makers.
Experience has highlighted the need to develop contingency plans before infection arrives so as to address the wide range of issues posed by HPAI outbreaks. In particular, strategies for improved communication, education and public awareness provide important building blocks to assist and hopefully restrict future outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza.
A central conclusion is the continuing need to further develop national capacities within government and elsewhere to respond to the challenges posed by H5N1 HPAI - not only in responding to outbreaks, but also preparing for these through contingency planning and risk assessment.
Whilst much attention has been focused on H5N1 HPAI, developing wildlife surveillance programmes will assist in responding to the spread of other wildlife diseases. The workshop stressed the need to take longer-term and integrated perspectives in responding to the challenges posed by these diseases.
The global response to HPAI H5N1 provides an important opportunity to learn and to build capacity for wildlife disease surveillance and habitat management in order to reduce associated risks. This will assist in controlling both novel and existing wildlife health problems as well as reducing impacts on human populations through the emergence and spread of diseases than can infect humans.
In the context of both the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the issues raised by wildlife diseases are cross-cutting. They affect conservation of protected areas and conservation policies such as breeding programmes associated with species recovery projects.
Notes to Editors:
1. The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds was convened in 2005 to create a liaison mechanism between those international organisations and intergovernmental environmental agreements engaged in activities related to the spread of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). The Task Force also met a need for information on wild birds to be better reflected in the debate about H5N1 HPAI and its spread around the world. It comprises representatives and observers from 14 international organisations, including 7 UN bodies. UNEP/CMS and FAO act as joint chairs of the Task Force.
2. The Task Force aims to collect and coordinate the best scientific advice on the conservation impact of the spread of HPAI H5N1, including assessing the role of migratory birds as vectors of the virus. It aims to ensure that national and international policies on HPAI H5N1 are based on best available data and information. Its work has been crucial to help develop collaborations and joint work programmes, and has thus enhanced the effectiveness of responses.
2. An international workshop organised by the Task Force took place in Aviemore, Scotland, from 26 to 28 June 2007 to address 'Practical Lessons Learned' in relation to the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 outbreaks. This brought together Task Force members as well as national experts from around the world, with experience of handling outbreaks with the aim of reviewing practical issues arising, and lessons learnt, from recent HPAI outbreaks.
3. The workshop provided a platform for active debate and the sharing of information on practical responses to avian influenza with a focus on reviewing recent experiences of dealing with outbreaks. Guidelines on good practice responses were collated to assist to those responsible for responding to HPAI outbreaks, wildlife experts, and managers of protected areas.
4. The conclusions of the workshop can be found at: http://www.aiweb.info/documents/Aviemore%20conclusions.pdf
5. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species and their habitats throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty, concluded under the aegis of UNEP, concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale. UNEP/CMS is addressing all threats to the survival of migratory animals and to the migration process itself such as light pollution, climate change, by-catch, wind turbines, ship strikes, power lines, as well as habitat degradation and loss. The Convention was adopted in Bonn, Germany, on 23 June 1979 and entered into force on 1 November 1983. Today, 108 countries are Parties to the Convention.
Ms Veronika LenarzUNEP/CMS Secretariat
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