Avian influenza (AI) – also called bird flu – is a transboundary zoonotic disease. AI emerged in Asia in 2003 and was reported 2005 in Europe and 2006 in Africa.
In West Africa Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Benin as well as Egypt, Djibouti and Sudan on the Eastern side of the continent have reported infections. As predicted, the risk of the disease to become endemic in poultry seems a reality in Nigeria and Egypt.
Until today AI remains an animal disease. There has been no confirmed human to human transmission. However, as of December 2007, there were 43 human cases on the continent, 20 of them fatal.
The influenza virus might undergo genetic mutation and acquire the characteristics of a highly contagious and pathogenic disease of humans and Africa might become a reservoir for the virus from where the re-emergence of the disease could pose recurrent risk of the virus mutating or under-going re-assortment and thereby starting a human pandemic.
It is not possible to foresee when a mutation to this effect might occur or if it will happen at all but experience from most recent influenza pandemics show that consequences of a pandemic can be devastating.
Not only a human pandemic with vast numbers of people dying of the disease is a catastrophe. Even a pandemic restricted to animals could mean disaster to human life. Be it through sickness or culling measures imposed to try and contain the spread of the virus, a bird flu pandemic that kills vast parts of poultry flock would certainly have severe socioeconomic impact. For Africa in particular with its heavy dependence on poultry as primary protein source for humans, the impact on food security and the loss of income would be tremendous.
Given these extremely high risks, it is of utmost importance especially for the African continent to prepare for possible disaster scenarios. The coordination of the SPINAP programme and the participation in various AI activities and fora is IBAR's contribution towards pandemic preparedness.
On 30 April 2007, AU-IBAR and the European Commission signed a Euro 21.5 million partnership agreement for a period of 36 months.
The agreement concerns the implementation of the Support Programme to Integrated National Action Plans for Avian and Human Influenza (SPINAP-AHI) which is specifically geared towards addressing the prevention and control of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in both animals and humans.