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Chapter 2
Organization of veterinary services during an animal disease emergency programme


Fighting a disease epidemic or combating other animal health emergencies is in many respects like fighting a war and requires the same level of discipline. It requires the same ability to make rapid decisions based on analysis of the best information that can be made available from all sources, to convert those decisions into clear orders which can be conveyed down the chain to those who are charged with the responsibility of carrying them out and to know that orders have been carried out and with what results. There must therefore be efficient mechanisms in place for the transmission of information and instructions from the national veterinary services headquarters to the front line of the disease eradication campaign in the field and laboratory and for feedback of information to headquarters.

It is clear that for these things to happen quickly and efficiently in an emergency, the veterinary services for a country must be placed in a command structure or line-management system at least for the duration of the emergency response.

National veterinary services are generally structured so as to optimize routine activities such as endemic disease control, veterinary public health, quarantine, etc. In recent years, government veterinary services in many countries have also been rationalized and restructured in many ways, including:

These new structures are frequently not conducive to the mounting of an effective and timely response to an animal health emergency. Countries should review their situation with a view to devising the most appropriate structures and lines of responsibilities that can be rapidly and seamlessly put in place when an emergency arises. This may include organizing one or more of the following well in advance of any emergency:


Countries may find it useful to establish a CCEAD that can be convened as soon as there is a disease or other animal health emergency and that can meet regularly during the course of the emergency response. This would principally be a technical committee whose role would be to review epidemiological and other disease control information, make recommendations on the activation of agreed contingency plans, maintain an oversight over the campaign and advise the CVO and the minister on future plans for the campaign and on implementation of those plans.

A suggested composition of the CCEAD might be:

If the command structure recommended at the beginning of Chapter 2 cannot be implemented for any reason, it becomes essential that a CCEAD be established so that there can be a consensus approach to the conduct of the emergency response campaign.


Countries should establish a permanent national animal disease control centre. In the event of an outbreak of an emergency animal disease, the centre should be responsible to the CVO for coordinating all emergency disease control measures in the country. The centre should be close to the office of the CVO. The epidemiology unit should either be attached to the centre or should work in close collaboration with it. The CVO may delegate day-to-day responsibilities for implementing agreed policy to the head of the centre, who would normally be the director of field veterinary services.

The responsibilities of the national animal disease control centre in the emergency response would include:

The national animal disease control centre should be fully equipped with meeting rooms, a range of maps covering all parts of the country (preferably at 1:50 000), and all suitable communication equipment for liaison with local animal disease control centres, veterinary laboratories, etc., by telephone, radio, e-mail and facsimile, as appropriate. The centre should also be linked with the emergency disease information system (see Chapter 4).


During an emergency, one or more local animal disease control centres should be set up within easy reach of the infected zones of the disease outbreak. Ideally they should be sited so that teams are able to travel to and from any site for surveillance or any other disease control activities on the same day. Where distances are not great, these local centres could be established on a permanent basis in a regional or district veterinary or agricultural office. Otherwise, possible locations for temporary local disease control centres (e.g.local government offices) should be identified and agreed in advance.

The local animal disease control centre should be fully equipped with offices, meeting rooms, maps, communication equipment to contact both field personnel and the National Animal Disease Control Centre, vehicles and fully stocked central stores. Central cold-storage facilities for vaccines should also be located at or within easy access of the centre. The centre should have simple equipment that will allow it to process and dispatch diagnostic specimens, including serum samples.

Each local animal disease control centre should be under the control of an experienced senior field veterinary officer. This officer should be given the responsibility for directing the emergency disease control and eradication programme within the area, under the general supervision of the national animal disease control centre and the CVO. All staff allocated to a centre for the period of the disease emergency should be under the command of this field veterinary officer for the duration of their attachment. The officer in charge of the centre should be given the authority to:

Zoning is an integral part of disease control and eradication campaigns

The local animal disease control centre should be allocated sufficient staff to carry out these functions properly. Each major area of field activity should be under the control of an experienced veterinary officer. The centre should also have a veterinary epidemiologist, who can provide specialized advice to the officer in charge and take care of disease reporting and the emergency disease information system. Depending on the type of disease control strategy chosen, there will be a need for disease surveillance teams, vaccination teams, quarantine and livestock movement control staff, valuers, infected premises teams (livestock slaughter, disposal, cleaning and disinfection), administrative staff (stores and general administration) and a public relations/education officer.


Countries may be faced with the situation where they have to deal with an outbreak of an epidemic livestock disease in areas that are difficult for geographical reasons or because they are relatively inaccessible owing to civil unrest or because they practise nomadism or transhumance. Such areas frequently have little contact with outside government officials. The conventional approaches recommended above will need to be considerably modified in these circumstances. Only staff experienced in the local conditions and who can gain the confidence of local communities should be used.

Sometimes the main outside contacts of such communities will be through agricultural and other specialists employed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs and their staff should be regarded as a valuable resource for assistance in implementing animal health programmes in difficult areas, including epidemic livestock disease control campaigns. Negotiations should therefore be carried out with appropriate NGOs to obtain their collaboration in this area. The necessary training and resources should then be supplied to their staff.

Community animal health workers are another valuable resource. Their help should be enlisted and they should be suitably trained and equipped.

Strategies for dealing with disease outbreaks in difficult areas are discussed in Chapter 5.

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