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Creation of the OFFLU network

7-8 April 2005 90 years of expertise

April 2005: the OIE and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launch a joint scientific worldwide network for the control of avian influenza.

Since re-emerging in 2003, highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 has had serious health and economic repercussions. The spread of the disease from South-East Asia to Europe and Africa led to several million birds being infected and several hundred often fatal human cases. This sanitary crisis alarmed the international community and triggered a strong response from political decision makers worldwide.

Read more: Information summary on avian influenza

Intersectoral mobilisation against avian influenza

With the occurrence of new cases of H5N1 influenza, it rapidly became clear that there was a need to coordinate international actions to control the disease and help affected countries in their efforts to eradicate it. The development of consistent strategies encompassing both human health and animal health management and pooling of the financial resources needed to implement them were in fact crucial for the management of this major sanitary crisis.

To coordinate these actions, several conferences were organised by the OIE, in collaboration with its partner international organisations.

Managing the H5N1 crisis at the human-animal-environment interface

Two International Conferences, organised jointly by the OIE, WHO, FAO and the World Bank in 2005 and 2006, in Geneva and Beijing, helped to identify the strategies and resources needed to control the disease worldwide, and then to put in place the necessary mechanisms for canvassing donors wishing to support the international community.

These conferences were followed by annual global conferences co-organised by WHO, the OIE and FAO, in New Delhi (India) and Sharm-el-Sheik (Egypt), aimed in particular at fine-tuning joint strategies at the human-animal interface. They helped to ensure that the OIE’s views on the importance of giving priority to managing risks at their source in animals were taken into account.

In parallel, the OIE and FAO, within the framework of their intersectoral collaboration, held two regional conferences in Asia in 2004 and 2005. These served to:

  • develop strategies to reduce the circulation of H5N1 virus in animals,
  • promote the appropriate use of vaccines for poultry,
  • prompt regional cooperation on avian influenza control.

Furthermore, they also resulted in the creation of the OFFLU network.

OFFLU: an FAO-OIE network of expertise on avian influenza control

The OFFLU network was officially established in 2005, notably to improve collaboration with the WHO global influenza surveillance network on matters related to the animal-human interface.
For a reminder

Its aim: to support and coordinate global efforts to prevent, detect and control risks associated with viruses responsible for avian influenza, for the benefit of animal health and public health. Within the framework of this network, the improvement of knowledge, follow-up and sharing of avian influenza virus strains between animal health and human health laboratories and OIE/FAO reference laboratories worldwide and publishing their gene sequences in public databases constitute a key factor in helping to prepare effective human vaccines.

… extended to include control of animal influenzas

In 2009, with the emergence of H1N1 influenza, OFFLU extended its scope to include all animal influenzas, with priority be given to so-called “swine” and “equine” influenzas. Since then, OFFLU’s activities have continued to grow and it can count on the leading world experts in each of these fields.

Read more: Link to the OFFLU website

OFFLU, a global public good

“In a world in which outbreaks of zoonotic diseases can cause considerable economic and social disruption, affect the animal kingdom while causing threats to public health, I consider that it is our duty to support and strengthen networks such as OFFLU in order to promote exchange of information on diagnostic and research programmes, thus contributing to the control and eradication of animal influenzas worldwide." Dr Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE.

OFFLU includes the Reference Laboratories for animal influenzas of the OIE and FAO, along with numerous animal health and human health experts internationally recognised in their respective fields. Thanks to its strong institutional links, OFFLU is frequently in contact with the animal health and public health sectors. Its secretariat has always been provided by the OIE, which is also responsible for coordinating the network.

OFFLU’s objectives

  • To exchange scientific data and biological materials (including virus strains).
  • To analyse these data and share the information thus obtained with the wider scientific community.
  • To offer technical advice, training and veterinary expertise to Member Countries on prevention, diagnosis, surveillance and control of animal influenzas.
  • To collaborate with the WHO network on human influenza on issues relating to the human-animal interface, including for early preparation of human vaccines.
  • To develop research on influenza.

Read more: OFFLU brochure

Fighting animal influenzas to protect human health

OFFLU works with WHO on issues related to the human-animal interface, to contribute to the early preparation of human vaccines and consolidate pandemic preparedness.

In 2011, the OIE and FAO signed an agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO), under which OFFLU undertakes to contribute to WHO’s procedure for selecting the vaccine strains to be used against human influenza, by providing early information on relevant virus strains of animal origin. These data are crucial for preventing a human pandemic. Thy also strengthen WHO’s capacity to identify potential human health risks from influenza viruses circulating in animal populations.

This agreement was renewed in 2013 for a five-year period until 2018.

Read more
OFFLU Annual Report 2013

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