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The Links and Roles between Animal Health and International Affairs

The impacts of animal health go far beyond prevention of mortality and morbidity. This short article examines briefly the links and roles between animal health and international affairs by addressing eleven selected themes that hinge them.  


Aid and Development Assistance: offering and delivering non-monetary aid in the form of technical assistance has for long been an alternative to cash transfers. This occur as sharing of disease intelligence and veterinary expertise, training-of-trainers, capacity building, backstopping accords, ideas, legislations, strategies and specialized consultancies, and help in drafting livestock development and health plans. Also, delivery of vaccines, syringes, gauzes, surgical and vaccination equipment, guidelines and manuals, surveillance and tracking software, and an array of medications fit here. 


Business and Economic Growth: supplying the demand for animal foods is impinged on functioning livestock production systems. From these there are associated up- and downstream firms that create business webs that help bring food from farm to fork. It is said that livestock contribute 40 per cent of the global value of agricultural output and animal health plays a pivotal in sustaining the provision of foods to markets and generating taxable and non-taxable incomes that feed back into local, regional and international economic systems thereby spurring multiplying effects in nation-states.


Hunger: healthy and productive food animals produce a variety of food products for direct and indirect human consumption. These products include blood, eggs, meat and meat products, milk and dairy products, viscera as well as rendering by-products such as brains, ears, feet, skin, testicles, tongues and udders. The food and income from healthy animals empower farmers of all scales to embrace the advantages, education, opportunities and strengths they need to produce more food and income to feed an ever-increasing world population. Also, animal food products from healthy livestock improve farmers’ access to both domestic and international markets.


Law: like any other actions launched within and between countries, these need to be grounded on legislative frameworks. Animal health measures, whether in normal or emergency periods, are bound by agricultural or veterinary laws. Countries wishing to participate in international trade must comply with strict regulations that in turn prompt a reassessment of animal health laws as to accommodate to these realities.


Partnerships: addressing global common challenges such as climate change and emerging animal diseases requires broad, proactive, pre-emptive interventions and participation from governments, multilateral institutions, research-funding agencies, donors and others. A strategic alliance between private and public sectors to tackle evolving context-specific challenges have been heralded a feasible and viable option.


Post-Conflict: fragile and broken states are in desperate need of rebuilding their food supplies and their lives. The raising of healthy livestock not only provides animal food but also generates income for individuals and countries to restart from a solid base. 


Poverty: Consistent and long-term reduction of animal deaths and illnesses through cost-effective animal health measures not only preserves the physical assets that in most parts of the world are used as food, income, insurance, safety net or wealth storage but also increases the value of saleable animals over time. Pro-poor livestock development is one of the main tools to be implemented in developing countries.


Science: much of the knowledge related to animal health was derived from both empiricism and scientific research. In great measure humans have benefited from the advances and discoveries made in animal health given that these are easily applicable to human medicine. The use of animals models (bioassays) helps measure the effects of substances on living organism and are essential in the development of new drugs and treatments, and in monitoring environmental pollutants. As a whole, science is used to validate natural phenomenon and guarantee the integrity of obtained results. 


Security: animal health plays a critical role in upholding food and global health security. For instance, health and productive livestock support the livelihoods and food security of almost a billion people. As long as animals produce food to feed more people and generate income to buy food items, animal health will be considered one of the fundamental underlying activities supporting the basic human right to food. As for global health security, disease mitigation measures aimed at addressing threats and reducing risks of infectious pathogens at the animal-human-ecosystem interface will contribute to healthy coexistence of the commons, and allow countries to exploit livestock production systems to produce food, generate income and to propel growth.


Technology: the advent of mass-reaching communication technologies, high-capacity analytical computing, and open access database platforms with innovative search, catalogue and visualization applications are now being utilized and leveraged to generate state-of-the-art animal disease intelligence that is for the most part used to issue early warnings and to foster early detection of hazards and threats based on the inputs available and provided. As animal and human health agencies are moving away from reactive response and into proactive prevention much emphasis is being given to early reaction mechanism that incorporate animal disease intelligence as its main guiding compass. This process, in order to be successful, is supported by a network of diagnostic laboratories and professional animal health practitioners.    


Trade: commercial transactions of animals and animal food products between countries are conducted within an Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) as mandated by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Growing demand for animal proteins will increase trade in animals and animal food products that can only take place with an optimal level of animal health security, based on the most up-to-date scientific information and available techniques. As a result, trade-based economic prosperity is intimately linked to animal health issues. 


The above selected themes illustrate the many links and roles between animal health and international affairs. If seen through an optimistic lens, one can easily detect many potential opportunities whereby countries can re-examine the importance and relevance given to healthy animals as carriers of wealth and a sense of safety, and as purveyors of nutritious foods, income, traction and companionship. The main challenge is for opinion leaders and policymakers to recognize these opportunities.