Flyway Initiative participates in deployment of Rapid Expert Group on Health in The Gambia’s fight against avian flu

In the beginning of 2023, a large outbreak of Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 (HPAI) – or avian flu – was documented in West Africa. In The Gambia, more than 7,500 waterbirds have died around coastal nature reserves. In response, the Gambian government approached the Rapid Expert Group on Health (SEEG), funded by the German government. In the beginning of September, a deployment that included the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative addressed both the current outbreak and prepare for potential future occurrences. Based on the experience of the ecological joint risk assessment conducted for the Wadden Sea in March 2023, a similar approach was designed for a workshop in The Gambia.

In the workshop, around 30 participants from human and veterinary medicine, agriculture, and the wildlife sector discussed risk factors for future outbreaks as well as possible management measures that could be implemented to address these factors in the West African country, using a joint approach of the responsible ministries. Additionally, a ranger training was conducted. The staff members of the wildlife department, who are at the front line of outbreaks in wild birds and are handling sick and dead animals, were trained on adequately protecting themselves and preventing future spread of the virus. Reviewing the actions taken during the last outbreak, the participants discussed how their responses can be improved, taking into accounts recommendations from the response team. A third component of the deployment included the laboratory training to enable the partners to rapidly detect HPAI in the country.

HPAI has spread rapidly across the globe in the last two years with devastating consequences for many wild bird populations. Many countries were taken by surprise by the scale of the outbreaks especially among colonially breeding birds and were looking for solutions to mitigate the impact and to reduce transmission, also to the agricultural sector. International exchange is key to having access to the latest scientific evidence pointing towards solutions which are working. As HPAI can have an impact not only on wild bird populations but also on the poultry sector and human health, a cross-sectoral approach is needed to deal with HPAI outbreaks.

The deployment was organised by the German Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG), managed by GIZ, and conducted in collaboration between German Society for International Co-operation (GIZ), the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), and the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative, coordinated by the CWSS.