Responsibility for animal disease emergencies
The Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) or equivalent, such as the Director of Veterinary Services of the country, should have overall technical responsibility with regard to preparedness for and management of animal health emergencies. The appropriate government minister would of course be ultimately responsible.
Responsibility for animal disease emergencies with a public health component
Animal disease emergencies that have a significant public health component are a special case. These emergencies might occur, for example, in a major outbreak of a zoonotic disease such as Rift Valley fever, Japanese encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis or rabies. For these emergencies, negotiations should be carried out between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health (or their equivalents). Agreement should be reached in advance on a joint framework for preparing contingency plans and for other complementary preparedness programmes. Agreement should also be reached on the most efficient mechanisms for coordinating emergency responses, for implementing disease control and eradication programmes and for sharing responsibilities. Appropriate opportunities for sharing resources between the two agencies should also be explored so as to avoid unnecessary duplication. This might include a single diagnostic laboratory facility for the zoonosis(es) in question, or at least the sharing of diagnostic reagents and of expertise between government veterinary and medical laboratories, common cold-chain facilities for vaccines, joint field missions and joint public awareness and public relations campaigns.
Of critical importance is the development of coordinated and efficient mechanisms for the rapid exchange of emergency disease reports and other key epidemiological information between the two agencies. These arrangements should apply at local and regional levels as well as at the national headquarters of both ministries. This is vital in order to enable a rapid response to new disease incidents and extensions of the outbreak, whether they are first manifested in humans or animals.
In order to have emergency preparedness planning recognized as an important core function of national veterinary services, and to have adequate funding and other resources allocated to these activities, the CVO should enlist the support of all interested parties. These would include, inter alia, the CVO's own minister and senior ministry officials, other government departments and agencies including national economic development planning authorities, farming communities and organizations, livestock marketing authorities, livestock traders and exporters and livestock product processors.
Of these, the most important target groups are the government and the farming community.
In presenting a strong case for support for emergency preparedness planning, the identified risks of the transboundary animal disease or other animal health emergency, and analysis of those risks, should be described together with the potential socio-economic consequences of an incursion or epidemic of the disease. This is discussed more fully in the risk assessment section in Chapter 3. Additionally, the benefits that will result from more rapid containment and eradication of the disease outbreak through forward contingency planning and preparedness should be forcefully presented. The case should preferably be supplemented by a formal socio-economic cost-benefit analysis.
A National Animal Disease Emergency Planning Committee (NADEPC) should be appointed to facilitate and coordinate emergency planning. This committee should be directly accountable to the Minister of Agriculture and should be charged with the responsibility for developing and maintaining a high state of preparedness for animal disease emergencies. It should preferably be chaired by the CVO and should hold regular meetings to carry out the following functions:
NADEPC should comprise the CVO as chair, the national animal disease planning officer (see below) as secretary, director of field veterinary services/director of disease control (or equivalent), director of the national veterinary laboratory, head of the epidemiological unit, director of animal quarantine and directors of state or provincial veterinary services.
In addition to these senior animal health officials, representatives of other ministries that may have a substantial role in responding to animal health emergencies, such as health, wildlife services, economic planning and finance, should either be full members of the committee or should be coopted as required. It is also highly desirable to have members drawn from the private sector, such as representatives of major livestock farming and processing organizations.
A National Animal Disease Emergency Planning Officer should be appointed. This officer should be a senior veterinary officer with training in epidemiology and wide field experience in the management of disease control programmes. If circumstances warrant it, a small unit of professionals should also be appointed.
The planning officer would be both the adviser to and the executive officer of the National Animal Disease Emergency Planning Committee, and would be actively involved in all NADEPC programmes itemized above.
Most countries have well-developed national disaster plans. These allow essential government and non-government services and resources to be rapidly mobilized in response to a disaster. Such plans may also allow these essential services to be given special powers to act in the emergency. The national disaster plan is usually aimed at specific natural disasters of an emergency nature such as major fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
A strong case can be made for the official recognition of a disease emergency as a defined natural disaster situation which can be incorporated into the national disaster plan. An epidemic of a transboundary animal disease, for example, has the same characteristics as other natural disasters: it is often a sudden and unexpected event, has the potential to cause major socio-economic consequences of national dimensions and even threaten food security, may endanger human life and requires a rapid national response.
There are several essential government services, other than the Ministry of Agriculture, which will be invaluable in an emergency. These include, inter alia:
Once approval has been given for the recognition of animal health emergencies within the national disaster plan, a set of standard operating procedures should be prepared and agreed with all cooperating agencies. The format of these documents will presumably be determined by pre-existing arrangements for the national disaster plan. They should set out in simple, unambiguous terms just how the national disaster plan is going to be activated in the case of an animal health emergency.
They should also describe what duties and functions the support agencies may be expected to perform under different circumstances.
Finally, they should establish the formal relationship between the various agencies and the chain of command. It should be emphasized that the Ministry of Agriculture (or equivalent ministry responsible for animal disease issues) is the lead combat authority during the emergency response.