Since its emergence, H5N1 HPAI has attracted considerable public and media attention because the viruses involved have been shown to be capable of producing fatal disease in humans, which gives rise to the fear that the virus might acquire the capacity for sustained human-to-human transmission and thus cause a global influenza pandemic.
Driven by the fear of a possible human pandemic, responses to HPAI outbreaks have generally been top-down, heavy handed government interventions. Control measures have centred on stamping out which may entail large scale culling of infected flocks and in-contact flocks and the high concentration of poultry in certain areas has led to the culling of millions of animals at great expense. For low income countries in which poultry is raised primarily by smallholders, who are often poor, such measures may constitute a serious burden, and thus lead to socially unjust outcomes and / or be undermined.
In order to improve local and global and capacity for making evidence-based decisions on the control of HPAI (and other diseases with epidemic potential), which inevitably have major social and economic impacts in particular on the poor, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has funded a multi-disciplinary and collaborative HPAI research project in Southeast Asia and Africa.
Deeper understanding of HPAI risk
The risk of disease in livestock populations is a result of biological processes and economic behaviour of livestock keepers and traders. Current control regimes promoted by policy makers respond primarily to biological disease characteristics, while private actors, who have a major role to play in disease control, respond primarily to economic incentives. To more effectively manage HPAI risks in areas, in which the disease has become established, and thereby to limit local economic damage and wider implications of disease propagation and supply chain disruption, a deeper understanding of the interactions between animal health promotion and the economics of livestock production and marketing is needed. The first objective of this project is to provide such insights from detailed and rigorous field research.
Emphasis on institutions and livelihoods
Disease outbreaks and control measures affect not only animal health but livelihoods. In developing countries, extensively raised backyard livestock are an essential source of both food security and livelihood support. This means that control measures will animate complex responses at the local level, responses that can undermine both programme effectiveness and economic wellbeing of the poor. To manage this risk in ways that are both biologically and socially effective thus requires detailed understanding of both disease epidemiology and institutions.
Substantive and innovative policy guidance
HPAI is not unprecedented, but early responses to this disease indicate that a new generation of policies are needed to address this animal and public health risk. Despite determined early eradication efforts, outbreaks continue on a now regular cycle and in some areas the disease appears to have become endemic. Evidence also suggests that conventional control measures have unintended and at times unanticipated behavioural consequences that undermine their effectiveness and compound negative economic consequences, particularly with respect to sustainable smallholder livelihoods. With this in mind, the project will focus on substantive recommendations from direct evidence regarding poultry production, distribution, processing, and marketing systems. This kind of integrated health and behavioural approach is a significant innovation that can support new policies to combat a larger universe of transboundary animal diseases (TADs) and at the same time address the needs of poor majorities in the subject countries. Both rural and urban poor populations need a secure and affordable food supply, and smallholder farmers need to be recognized as part of the solution to protecting a global commons of disease freedom.
- Asia: Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia
- Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria