The United States Agency for International Development is helping the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization combat pandemic animal disease threats in Asia, Africa and the Middle East with an additional $87 million in funding covering the 2015-2019 period.
The funds will support monitoring and surveillance, epidemiological studies, prevention and control activities as well as improving veterinary capacities in the targeted countries. It also will help promote links between animal health specialists and the public health sector.
USAID and FAO have worked in partnership on controlling animal diseases and managing related human health threats for over a decade. USAID financial backing for this work now amounts to $320 million since 2004.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva thanked the U.S. for its support and longstanding partnership.
"This shows how important transboundary diseases are for FAO and the UN system, and how much more important they will be in in the future if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said. "Millions of people rely on livestock for survival, income and nutrition, and their livelihoods must be protected."
Controlling Ebola, avian flu and MERS-CoV
The new USAID funding will enable FAO to conduct studies in West and East Africa to identify potential reservoirs of carriers of Ebola, and Ebola-like diseases, and shed light on the possible role of livestock, if any, in transmitting the disease.
Meanwhile, better understanding the epidemiology of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus will be the focus of activities in the Horn of Africa and the Near East.
Although MERS-CoV is not known to spread easily from person to person under normal circumstance, its animal origin means that prevention of animal-to-human transmissions must be a key element in stopping the emergence of a strain with epidemic potential.
Efforts to stop the spread, however, are hampered by knowledge gaps regarding where the virus is present, which animals are affected, how livestock production and marketing might factor in to transmission, as well as the role of wild animals.
In West Africa, the funding will give a boost to FAO prevention and emergency response efforts to stem the spread of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza through prevention, detection and control efforts.
The first incursion of H5N1 in West Africa occurred in 2006, but it was successfully eliminated within three years. In late 2014 the virus was reintroduced in Nigeria, where it has since spread rapidly to Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Niger with more than 2.5 million birds culled or dead from the virus.
With outbreaks recently detected in Ghana, FAO is concerned that without a region-spanning effort to contain and stamp it out, H5N1 could expand to other countries in the region.
Africa livestock futures
FAO is also leveraging the USAID support to launch a new "Africa Livestock Futures" program spanning the entire sub-Saharan region that will analyze trends in the livestock sector and help countries pre-empt associated health threats and environmental impacts.
In Asia, the new USAID funding will reinforce ongoing FAO programs that monitor and prevent high impact pathogenic animal infectious agents – specifically influenza A, coronaviruses, and henipaviruses – and work to minimize the role of agriculture in the ever-increasing threat of anti-microbial resistant microorganisms.