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Responding to Threat of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in East Africa

February 2017

On January 2, 2017, numerous dead wild birds were discovered on Uganda’s Lutembe Bay on Lake Victoria. These birds, and others including ducks and chickens identified in the Masaka District on January 13, 2017, tested positive for H5N8, one of the many subtypes of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) found worldwide but detected for the first time in the East Africa subregion.

The outbreak of HPAI in Uganda raises concerns because the country has a combination of factors that could contribute to further spread of the disease, including: a population of over forty million domestic poultry; a combination of a variety of informal trade of domestic poultry within the region, the presence of the disease in an area considered seasonal shelter of migratory birds that are reservoir of AI virus; the existence of numerous live bird markets; and a large number of backyard poultry producers.

In response, the Government of Uganda and other East African countries and their partners, including the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats 2 (EPT-2) program partners (e.g; FAO, PREDICT-2, One Health Workforce, and P&R) are stepping up preparedness and response efforts to reduce the spread of H5N8 and prevent it from becoming an endemic disease within the subregion.

The Government of Uganda activated the National Task Force (NTF) to manage its response, in coordination with the country’s recently established National One Health Platform’s secretariat, the Zoonotic Disease Coordination Office (ZDCO). The ZDCO provided technical guidance to the NTF on developing HPAI H5N8 outbreak response activities. Specifically, with the NTF, the ZDCO reviewed the draft Joint Emergency Response plan and budget; drafted a joint Cabinet Memorandum and press releases; and reviewed and updated existing Avian Influenza Communication Strategy documents and IEC materials in English and local languages in liaison with the Communications Subcommittee. P&R provided technical support to ZDCO throughout the outbreak.

In addition, P&R Regional and National One Health Technical Advisors are also supporting preparedness and response actions in neighboring countries across East Africa. The Rwanda One Health Steering Committee has convened meetings with One Health stakeholders in the government, EPT-2 partners, local leaders, selected border posts, and national response teams in selected districts. The multi-sectoral team developed HPAI awareness messages to spread the word about the ongoing in-country preparedness, reporting channels, emergency contact numbers (in case of an outbreak or any detected sick or dead birds), and sensitization of communities and local leaders after identifying sites to enhance surveillance. One Health stakeholders are also currently reviewing the 2006 Avian Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan.

In Kenya, the Zoonotic Disease Unit (ZDU) convened a national influenza taskforce meeting, bringing together One Health sector ministries, non-governmental and private sectors, and partners including FAO, WHO, OIE, WSU, ILRI, and PREDICT-2. As a result, the national influenza task force committees undertook rapid risk assessment, surveillance, and communication, as well as activated laboratory capabilities, resource mobilization, and coordination, in line with the Kenya Influenza Contingency Plan. P&R continues to provide technical assistance to the ZDU and multi-sectoral response efforts.

In Ethiopia, P&R consulted with various stakeholders, including members of the National One Health Steering Committee, Ethiopian Wildlife Authority, National Animal Health Diagnostic and Investigation Center, Epidemiology Directorate of the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, EPT-2 partners, and FAO, to raise awareness and stimulate the initiation of preparedness actions While heightened surveillance has found no reported cases of HPAI, the Ethiopian Wildlife Authority has increased the monitoring of wetland wild bird activity in potential hot spots.

In Tanzania, the One Health Coordination Unit (OHCU) established last year in the Prime Minister’s Office is coordinating preparedness and response actions. This coordination has improved multi-sectoral field monitoring of poultry and wild birds conducted by public health, wildlife, and veterinary services. Regular updates are being shared among stakeholders and emergency readiness exercises/simulations are ongoing. The OHCU has convened key sectors to develop a three-month HPAI contingency plan, which has been submitted to the cabinet of ministers for approval.

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