Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza - workshop on lessons learnt


Lessons learnt from recent outbreaks of
highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1

Issues associated with the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza subtype H5N1 have been of considerable concern, and led to an emergency Resolution being drafted during the ninth meeting of the Conference of Parties in November 2005. Since COP9, Ramsar has contributed to the work of the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza which is a liaison mechanism between those international organisations and intergovernmental environmental agreements engaged in activities related to the spread of H5N1. It comprises representatives and observers from 14 international organisations, including four UN bodies.

The activity of the multi-agency Task Force has been crucial to help develop collaborations and joint work programmes, and has thus enhanced the effectiveness of responses.

In June 2007, an international workshop was convened by the Task Force, and organised in Scotland by the Convention on Migratory Species and Scottish Natural Heritage on the theme of 'practical lessons learnt' from recent cases of infection.

The workshop identified a number of important conclusions and recommendations for future action. A central theme running through most of these is the continuing need to further develop interministerial capacities within national governments, as well as interdisciplinary collaborations elsewhere to respond to the challenges posed by HPAI - not only in responding to cases of infection, but also preparing for these through contingency planning and risk assessment. Central to this activity is the close and integrated working of various elements of the governmental and non-governmental sectors, bringing together the complementary expertise of epidemiologists, veterinarians, virologists, biologists and ornithologists - as COP9 stressed in Resolution IX.23.

The conclusions of the workshop are now available here and on the Task Force's Web site. They are directly relevant to the request made at COP9 for "STRP to assist, with relevant international agencies and the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza, in sharing information, including practical advice that will assist countries to respond to this serious and rapidly developing situation".

Included as an Annex to the Conclusions is a useful list of guidance related to:

  • contingency planning and risk assessment (included as related to nature reserves and protected areas, and zoos and collections);
  • responding to avian influenza infection;
  • surveillance and early warning systems;
  • epidemiology: tracing sources of infection; and
  • communication, education and public awareness.

STRP intends to further develop this 'guide to guidance' for the information of Contracting Parties and others. A small STRP workshop on avian influenza in South Korea in November this year will further assist this process and will start to develop further information for the of Contracting Parties.

Ramsar COP9 noted the need to promote capacity development and build expertise in responding to the challenges posed by the spread of HPAI H5N1. The development of practical programmes of training and capacity development by FAO, Wetlands International, the UK Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement, and others has been a very welcome step forward. Such programmes need to be sustained and further developed, recognising that single training courses by themselves are insufficient to develop significant long-term capacity.

-- David Stroud, JNCC, member of the Ramsar STRP

Participants from 17 countries on a newly developed practical training course on AI surveillance at WWT's wetland centre at Slimbridge, UK. Photo: WWT

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