Experts call for scientific bird flu task force

Small-scale poultry farming in Africa provides important dietary protein Copyright: USAID

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[NAIROBI] Research on bird flu in developing countries needs to be coordinated by an international scientific task force, according to experts who met in Nairobi, Kenya last week (13-16 June).

They spent three days identifying gaps in scientific knowledge and compiling a shopping list of research needed to reduce the threat.

High on the list was the need for more research into the genetic code of the H5N1 virus to track its spread and identify the source of disease outbreaks.

Also listed was research into the impact that culling entire poultry stocks can have on the people who rely on them for nutrition, especially pregnant women and children.

The meeting emphasised the fact that in developing countries, backyard chickens and their eggs provide essential animal protein for their owners and act as living financial investments that can be sold in times of need.

To date, this form of poultry rearing has not featured sufficiently in discussions of bird flu said Frands Dolberg of the Network for Smallholder Poultry Development, in Denmark.

Delegates highlighted the need to boost developing nations’ capacity to diagnose bird flu and produce and deploy vaccines in poultry stocks.

They ended the meeting by agreeing plans to form a scientific task force to mobilise scientists worldwide, prioritise and coordinate research, and disseminate findings to stakeholders ranging from poor farmers to policymakers.

The organisers intend to produce a meeting report within two weeks, and will seek funding and institutional support to take the plans forward.

Among those present were Santanu Bandyopadhyay, India’s commissioner for animal husbandry; Huang Baoxu, director of China’s National Animal Quarantine Institute; and Daniel Adene of Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria who in February diagnosed his country’s — and Africa’s — first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu (see Nigeria reports Africa’s first H5N1 bird flu outbreak).

To learn more about the plans or to participate, please contact Tom Randolph ([email protected]).