US gov't approves multi-million $ wild bird avian flu surveillance network

Wildlife Conservation Society to lead initiative to track virus overseas

In an effort to improve the tracking of avian influenza, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded $5 million in support for a new initiative that will monitor wild bird populations for the disease around the globe, according to the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which will spearhead the project involving more than a dozen private and public partners. Called the Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance (GAINS), the initiative has also received an additional $1 million from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to continue global monitoring and surveillance efforts underway by WCS and its network of partners.

Specifically, GAINS will help provide increased capacity to: detect avian influenza, including the highly pathogenic form of the virus, in wild migratory and resident bird populations; gain information on viral strains to track changes; use that information to guide domestic and global preparedness and vaccine development; and create an open database for real-time information sharing on highly pathogenic avian influenza and other pathogens. WCS will work in tandem with USAID, the CDC, Wetlands International, Birdlife International, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and others on the initiative. "We applaud USAID for taking this important step in the fight to prevent the spread of avian influenza," said Dr. Steven Sanderson, President and CEO of WCS. "With help from key partners across the globe, we will be able to eliminate critical gaps in our understanding of this deadly pathogen. With continued funding, this network can become a great bulwark against global threats to public health."

The funds for the new initiative were created when the President signed into law the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Pandemic Influenza (attached to the Defense Appropriations Act), which was passed by Congress in late December 2005. The package includes funds for international disease surveillance and tracking of the movement of avian flu in both wild and domestic bird populations.

"This new partnership marks another important step in U.S. efforts to combat the threat of avian influenza," said Dr. Dennis Carroll, Director of USAID's Avian and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Unit. "The GAINS program will fill an important role in supporting the activities of the Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as the World Health Organization. We're pleased to work with WCS and our international partners on this vital effort."

"The Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance will help provide us and the world with valuable forecasts on the emergence of viral storms so that we can prevent the spread of avian flu and prepare those communities in its wake," said Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), who introduced the Global Network for Avian Influenza Surveillance Act (S.1912) back in October 2005.

The GAINS program enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress from Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT3) and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY18), who have all championed the early warning system.

"As co-chair of the Senate Conservation Caucus, I think the GAINS program will play an important role in developing a global pandemic influenza tracking infrastructure, which could ultimately help save millions of lives," added Senator Brownback. "We should take steps such as monitoring viral mutations in wild birds so we can tackle any future pandemic influenza outbreaks."

"Fighting the threat of avian flu abroad means we do not have to do it here," said Congresswoman DeLauro (D-CT3), sponsor of the Global Network for Avian Influenza Surveillance Act, the House companion to the Lieberman bill. "GAINS will help us learn how the virus is changing to better prepare populations at risk in the wild bird flight path. With instances of this virus increasing in Asia, the funding for this initiative could not come at a more opportune time."

"This additional funding for GAINS is a big step forward in boosting our capacity to determine where avian influenza may pose a regional and even global threat," said Congresswoman Lowey, author of the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Act to create an international plan to address avian flu. "GAINS will help us better track and understand how to prepare for an avian flu pandemic."

"This new initiative will greatly expand the health community's ability to look upstream to identify where the avian influenza virus is and where it may be headed," said Dr. William Karesh, director of WCS' Field Veterinary Program, which has been active in monitoring for the pathogen globally for nearly two decades. "At the same time, the conservation community will be generating sound science to inform all parties on where wild birds may be a key factor, and where the focus should be more on the movements of poultry and poultry products, for example."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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