United Nations Study Shows Measured, Effective Global Response to Twenty-First Century Human, Animal Influenza Threats

14 April 2010

United Nations Study Shows Measured, Effective Global Response to Twenty-First Century Human, Animal Influenza Threats

14 April 2010
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

United Nations Study Shows Measured, Effective Global Response

to Twenty-First Century Human, Animal Influenza Threats

Sustaining defenses against new infectious diseases, a new United Nations-World Bank study says, will require a twenty-first century skill set:  well-synchronized coordination among public and private sector institutions; a global network of laboratories and surveillance systems; a collaborative international outlook; clear communication with the public; and steady political commitment even as other events dominate headlines.

With an estimated 75 per cent of new human diseases originating in animals, and an annual average of two new animal diseases with cross-over capability emerging each year, the report says, the crowding of three major epidemiological events into the first decade of the new century -– SARS, H5N1 avian influenza and H1N1 pandemic influenza –- is an indication of the rate at which threats may continue to arise.

Indeed, as globalization factors improve the ability of viruses to rapidly cross borders, and as human settlements push into virgin tropical forests and climate change disrupts animal habitats, the incidence of new diseases may quicken and their reach may extend.

“Sustaining momentum will require a strategic use of resources and a move away from emergency response-driven projects and special, single-focus initiatives, to long-term capacity building,” says the April 2010 report entitled Animal and pandemic influenza:  a framework for sustaining momentum.

Over the most recent five-year period (2005-2009), donors pledged a total of $4.3 billion to support avian, animal and pandemic influenza programmes -- a substantial sum that is nevertheless modest in relation to other international efforts.  A high percentage of pledges translated into commitments -- a total of $3.9 billion so far -- and by December 2009, $2.7 billion has been disbursed, according to the report.

Concerning a new defensive arsenal against disease, for the sum of half a billion dollars a year in support expenditure since the arrival of avian influenza as a perceived global threat in 2005, the study finds, the world has bought a defensive repertoire of unprecedented dimensions.

Synchronization rather than creation of new institutions or massive new infrastructure is the main thread.

Critical factors include in-country institutional frameworks to tackle the root causes of disease emergence; use of the World Health Organization’s 2005 set of International Health Regulations and the World Animal Health Information System of the World Organization for Animal Health; improved biosecurity in poultry production systems; more public awareness and participation in basic hygiene practices; advance planning to maintain businesses and public services during periods of potential duress due to pandemic; and sharpened surveillance systems.

The United Nations-World Bank report finds “substantial worldwide progress with pandemic preparedness between 2005 and the present day”.

Organizers of the upcoming International Ministerial Conference on Animal and Pandemic Influenza (20-21 April, Hanoi, hosted by the Government of Viet Nam) note that a great deal remains to be done.  This includes upgrading veterinary services as well as human health networks, bringing biosecurity to the full length of food production chains, updating animal health regulations, maintaining hygiene habits, maintaining and updating disaster preparedness plans, cementing cross-sector partnerships and working with civil society, community organizations and business.

Moreover, the safeguarding of human health is not the only reason to be concerned with zoonotic diseases, the study indicates.  Livestock and poultry are essential elements of healthy rural economies, and major protein sources for a world population with a growing appetite.

Poultry, as a relatively cheap source of protein, has been meeting needs of populations in the developing world, who are increasing in numbers and also gaining purchasing power in recent decades, to upgrade dietary standards from a bare subsistence level.  Continued availability of healthy domesticated fowl in sufficient quantity will be required as these demographic and economic trends extend into the mid-twenty-first century.

In the 1960s, according to statistics from the United Nations Population Division and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world populations of humans and livestock were roughly equal and the number of poultry was only incrementally higher.  But while the human population has roughly doubled since then, the number of domesticated fowl has increased by a factor of five.

For more information, contact Tim Wall of the United Nations Department of Public Information in New York, tel.: +1 212 963 5851, +1 213 447 5954 (cell), e‑mail:  wallt@un.org; or Michelle Delaney, United Nations System Influenza Coordination (UNSIC), Communication Officer in Hanoi, tel.: +84 0 1202 011844, e‑mail:  delaneym@un.org.  Copies of the full report are available at http://www.un-influenza.org/.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.