International Projects

Delaware Higher Education Partnership To Assist Romania In Avian Flu Battle

A partnership between the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical & Community College has been awarded a $424,000 grant to provide technical assistance to Romania in controlling avian influenza. The funding is being administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service through an interagency agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Bucharest, Romania.

The year-long project will operate under the auspices of UD's new Avian Biosciences Center in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Jack Gelb Jr., an avian virologist with experience in avian influenza, directs the center. It draws on experts in avian health, avian genomics, environmental compatibility and food safety and quality, working in UD's state-of the-art facilities at Allen Laboratory and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute in Newark, and Lasher Laboratory and the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown.

Carla Stone, international education partnership specialist in the Office of the President at Delaware Tech, and George Irvine, program specialist at UD's Center for International Studies, will coordinate and manage the project.

Romania has suffered a series of avian flu outbreaks since the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus was first detected at a farm in the Danube River delta last October. Another wave of avian flu in May resulted in the death of more than a million poultry from Romania's backyard flocks and commercial farms. According to the World Bank, this latest siege has cost Romania more than 90 million euros ($114 million U.S.) for disease control and losses to the poultry industry and related businesses.

The Delaware partnership is aimed at helping Romania improve its ability to respond to avian flu by strengthening its capabilities in several key areas, Gelb said.

“The focus will be on coordinating efforts among government agencies, universities and the poultry industry in Romania to increase the efficiency of the country's national agricultural laboratories, enhance biosecurity protocols in commercial poultry operations and share Delaware's expertise and experience with avian influenza,” Gelb noted. “We also are committed to building a sustainable partnership between Delaware and Romania.”

A centerpiece of the effort is introducing Romanian scientists, policymakers and industry representatives to what U.S. officials refer to as “the Delaware Model.”

“'The Delaware Model' is the combination of observation, communication, cooperation and collaboration among industry, academia, and the government that served us so well in controlling avian flu in Delaware in 2004,” Gelb explained. “This approach was critical to our success here, and we look forward to sharing it with our colleagues in Romania.”

UD played a vital role in protecting the billion-dollar Delmarva poultry industry in 2004 when the H7N2 strain of avian influenza infected three farms in Delmarva. UD poultry scientists quickly diagnosed the virus, coordinated with industry, other universities, and state and federal government to contain it, and worked around the clock to test samples from all flocks in six-mile quarantine zones around the three infected farms to make sure the virus had not spread.

The project will take a multimedia approach to connecting Delaware and Romanian poultry scientists, industry representatives and policymakers. Video conferences and professional education modules on compact disc will provide information on topics ranging from communications to laboratory management. A series of exchange visits will provide seminars with state government officials, lab tours and hands-on technical training.

Technical assistance for the project will be provided by the Delmarva International Poultry Partnership, which includes participants from Delmarva's poultry companies, the Delaware Department of Agriculture and other individuals from the public and private sectors.
The partnership was forged by UD and Delaware Tech in 2005 after Delaware Tech hosted a successful program with industry and government officials from Kosovo. Carla Stone, who organized the program, involved several UD poultry scientists in presenting seminars to the visitors.

Stone has worked on several projects in eastern Europe and even traveled to Romania in June and July when the latest wave of avian influenza hit the country. She believes that the partnership between the University of Delaware and Delaware Tech can have important benefits for both Romania and Delaware.

“Our philosophy is that we're all citizens of the world,” she noted. “We view this as a global issue important to all of us. The training and skills we provide will help both our countries. While we are teaching them, we can also learn lessons from them.”

In addition to helping to coordinate the international project, Delaware Tech also will play a key role in assisting Romania with its laboratory testing systems.

“Currently, most Romanian veterinarians stay in the laboratory rather than travel out in the field to work with poultry growers,” Stone said. “We are looking forward to sharing training protocols for lab management that will get the veterinarians out in the field while technicians process samples in the lab.”

UD's Center for International Studies will be working with Delaware Tech to help manage the project. This will be the center's second project in Romania. The center previously assisted the Institute of Public Administration in the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy in establishing a partnership between UD and Babes Bolyai University in Romania.
“Building international efforts like this one takes care,” said George Irvine, who joined the center last December as a program specialist. He has 12 years of economic development experience in Asia and is looking forward to fostering ties with Romania.

“You need to make sure your international partners are involved and benefiting throughout the project, and that is what we will be working to do,” he noted.

The first contingent of Romanian scientists and officials is scheduled to visit Delaware in late October.

(Article by Tracy Bryant, UDaily)