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Network of expertise on animal influenza

OIE - World Organization for Animal HealthFAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Minutes of the OFFLU Steering Committee Meetings

OFFLU Steering Committee meeting OIE, Paris, 14th September 2009 Summary and action points

Chairman - Steve Edwards (Chair of OFFLU Steering Committee)
OFFLU Steering Committee - Juan Lubroth, Gideon Brückner, Cristobal Zepeda
OFFLU Executive Committee - Ilaria Capua, Gwenaelle Dauphin, Keith Hamilton
OFFLU Secretariat - Margarita Riela
WHO Global Influenza Programme - Liz Mumford
Other observers - Kazuaki Miyagishima, Elisabeth Vindel-Erlacher, Kate Glynn

Previous meeting and outstanding actions

The minutes of the previous May 2009 meeting were agreed. 3 outstanding actions - concerning improving regional representation within OFFLU, developing laboratory biosafety guidance (in relation to handling pandemic H1N1 viruses in veterinary laboratories), and the legal status of OFFLU - need to be completed.

The mandate of OFFLU covers all animal influenza viruses. Several of the OIE Reference Laboratories for avian influenza have expertise in other animal influenzas, particularly swine influenza, and OIE Reference Laboratories for equine influenza may also have expertise in other animal influenzas such as canine influenza. FAO would have no problem in principle in providing broader recognition if a laboratory fulfilled the necessary requirements.

Action: For the OIE Biological Standards Commission to clarify whether OIE Reference Laboratories for avian influenza that also have expertise in other animal influenza viruses could apply to become Reference Laboratories for ‘mammalian and avian influenzas’, alternatively whether applicants could apply to be a Reference Laboratory for swine influenza even though it is not a listed disease.

Raising the profile of OFFLU and regional representation within OFFLU

There is a need to raise the profile of OFFLU world wide and develop better regional representation within OFFLU; this should be addressed as a priority in the OFFLU work plan.

Action: OFFLU Executive Committee to develop a work plan for raising the profile of OFFLU in the regions including Africa, Asia, and South America. This should include utilising the OIE Regional Commission meetings.

Action: OFFLU Secretariat to organise a meeting of the OFFLU Executive and Steering Committees to include representatives from different regions, particularly Africa, Asia, and South America.

Action: OFFLU Executive Committee to identify regional contact points (in existing Reference Laboratories or Collaborating Centres).

Action: Reference Laboratories and Centres, Collaborating Centres and OFFLU experts should be encouraged to use the OFFLU logo where appropriate.


Issues around surveillance for pandemic H1N1 2009 in animals are complex and need to be distilled to provide a clear strategy. Some animal influenza viruses have little animal health impact, and are of negligible food safety risk; the driver for surveillance of these viruses is primarily to monitor potential risks to public health through emergence of reassortants.

There is a need to develop a clear OIE-FAO strategy for surveillance of influenza in animals, accounting for other existing guidelines, including FAO’s recently published document. The OFFLU applied epidemiology group would provide a suitable forum for this.

Action: OFFLU applied epidemiology group to review existing guidance and formulate a strategy for surveillance of pandemic H1N1 2009 virus, and other influenzas, in animals.

Action: OFFLU Executive Committee to propose names for addition to the core applied epidemiology group and to develop a wider consultation group, including regional representation.

Action: FAO - molecular epidemiology project in SE Asia to be labelled as an OFFLU project.

Legal Status of OFFLU

This remains an issue for FAO, but no progress has yet been made.

Action: Gwen to pursue with FAO legal advisers

Objectives and mandate of OFFLU

The emergence of pandemic H1N1 2009 provided the stimulus for OFFLU to expand its mandate to cover all animal influenzas. Functional links with WHO have been further strengthened as a result of joint collaboration and sharing of information during the current H1N1 pandemic. The WHO/OFFLU joint response to pandemic H1N1 2009 has been a success. Liz Mumford was acknowledged as key in promoting OFFLU within WHO and in facilitating collaboration between the 2 networks.

It was agreed that the second OFFLU objective should be amended to include ‘training’ and thus read ‘to offer technical advice, training, and veterinary expertise to Member Countries to assist in prevention, diagnosis, surveillance and control of animal influenza. Ilaria Capua suggested that there was a need to revise the wording of the objectives and mandate of OFFLU in general.

Actions: Ilaria Capua to reword the OFFLU objectives and circulate for comment; in the meantime the OFFLU Secretariat would amend the second OFFLU objective.

OIE Laboratory Twinning and FAO Laboratory Networks

KH/GD provided an update on these programmes as far as influenza is concerned.

OFFLU Scientist/ Technical project

The OFFLU Scientist has left her post at VLA to pursue another career opportunity. There would be difficulties in trying to fill this post for the remaining 18 months of the project. OIE has decided to use the remaining funds from this project to support a small technical project relevant to the objectives of OFFLU. A call for tender will be put to the experts at the OFFLU technical meeting, 15-16 September 2009, with a deadline to submit proposals by December 2009. The proposals will be reviewed by a selection committee in December.

Sharing of information and viruses

The government of Indonesia has released - into a publicly available sequence database - sequences of avian influenza viruses from the OFFLU vaccine project. Several other countries including Bangladesh have also recently deposited sequences of avian influenza viruses into publicly available databases. Countries including Argentina, Chile and Australia should be congratulated on the speed at which they have deposited - into databases - sequences of pandemic H1N1 2009 viruses found in animals.

Some other countries remain reluctant to share sequence data in the public domain.

OFFLU maintains its position that scientists must deposit sequence data and other useful information into the public domain quickly. It was noted that there is currently uncertainty over the future of the GISAID platform and the EpiFlu database. OFFLU does not recommend or support any particular sequence database, but recommends that scientists should use a publicly available database that suits their needs.

Mission to China

OIE and FAO have agreed to cooperate with the Chinese authorities on a proposed joint OIE-FAO OFFLU technical mission to China.

Action: OFFLU Executive Committee to develop preliminary draft objectives for the OFFLU Mission to China and to propose experts.

Work plan and budget

OFFLU has a global budget up until 2010. There will be a need to develop a work plan for the next period and to draft a budget accordingly.

Key points that should be addressed in the OFFLU work plan include:

  • Developing a mid to long term strategy for OFFLU, including defining the size and scope of OFFLU, and developing a clear vision of where OFFLU should be in 5 years
  • Improving regional representation within OFFLU and raising the profile of OFFLU world wide
  • Ensuring that animal health influenza networks are sustainable and that they continue to generate surveillance data
  • Maintaining and raising the profile of influenza as an issue
  • Developing a strategy to attract donor funding for OFFLU

Agenda for technical meeting

The meeting would be taking place over the next two days. The agenda was noted and agreed.

Any other business
Membership of Committees

Juan Lubroth will be leaving the OFFLU Steering Committee to focus on his new role as Officer in Charge of the Animal Health Service of FAO. All were most grateful for his positive input during his time on the Steering Committee and congratulated him on his promotion. The committee looked forward to welcoming his replacement, Gerrit Viljoen from the FAO/IAEA Joint Division, at the next meeting.

Ilaria Capua also announced that she would be stepping down from the OFFLU Executive Committee. All acknowledged with gratitude the outstanding contribution that Ilaria had made since OFFLU’s inception in 2005. Ilaria will remain fully committed in contributing to and promoting OFFLU.

Action: The OFFLU Executive Committee to propose a list of suggested names from which the Steering Committee can consider selecting Ilaria’s replacement.

Next meeting

Action: OFFLU Secretariat to organise the next Steering Committee meeting for March 2010.

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