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A Collaborative Approach to Enhancing Influenza A Virus Surveillance in Southeast Asia: A Case Study

Introduction:

This case study explores a strategic approach to manage the potential pandemic threat posed by emerging strains of Influenza A Viruses (IAV) in Southeast Asia, a region characterized by close proximity between humans, poultry, and pigs, which heightens the risk of zoonotic transmission. The focus is particularly on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where limited surveillance resources necessitate targeted strategies.

Problem Statement:

The risk of human transmission of IAV is amplified by pigs acting as intermediate hosts, with recent discoveries like the swine flu virus in China underscoring the urgency for increased surveillance. However, LMICs in Southeast Asia face challenges in terms of resources for effective surveillance and management of potential pandemics.

Collaborative Action:

To address these challenges, a collaborative effort between Vysnova, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and the Lao National Animal Health Laboratory was initiated to assist NAMRU-IP (Naval Medical Research Unit – INDO PACIFIC) in its efforts. The collaboration included conducting 46 Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) and focus groups with animal farmers and workers in two provinces in Northern Laos. Alongside, over 200 cross-sectional surveys were completed, with the team collecting 500 swabs and 390 serum samples from slaughterhouses.

Findings & Impact:

Qualitative analysis of the interviews and the lab work is currently underway with the aim to characterize the risks associated with novel and emerging influenza strains like G4 EA H1N1, H7N9, H5N1, and other potential variants related to livestock production systems in the Lower Mekong sub-region. This research will contribute significantly to our understanding of IAV dynamics and will assist in developing effective surveillance strategies to mitigate future risks.

Conclusion:

This case study exemplifies how collaborative efforts can address complex health challenges, particularly in resource-constrained environments. It underscores the necessity of proactive surveillance and research to avert potential pandemic threats in regions of high zoonotic transmission potential. The success of this collaboration is set to enhance the current understanding of IAV dynamics and develop effective surveillance strategies, making a tangible impact on global public health.

Recommendations:

This case study recommends continuing such strategic collaborations and enhancing surveillance measures, especially in regions with high zoonotic transmission risks. Further research should focus on characterizing emerging strains of influenza, expanding surveillance to other LMICs in the region, and refining pandemic prevention strategies based on these learnings.