The work of FAO on transboundary animal diseases and veterinary education
Many countries around the world use the term ‘exotic animal disease’ or ‘foreign animal disease’ to designate those injurious diseases that could have disastrous consequences if they were to enter their territory. This is because disease introduction and spread can result in direct losses to domestic animal populations. Indirect losses can also accrue from counter-epizootic measures, loss in trade, or possibly from a potential zoonotic spillover to other species.
From the point of view of FAO the preferred term is transboundary animal diseases (TADs), as nothing is of itself exotic or foreign in the global theatre. TADs are defined by veterinary experts as those diseases that are of significant economic, trade, and/or food security importance for a considerable number of countries, which can easily spread to other countries and reach epidemic proportions, and where control/management, including exclusion, requires cooperation between several countries.
Such a definition should include emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), most of which are likely to be zoonoses, but of uncertain impacts. To this end it is important to highlight that FAO’s Emergency Prevention System–Animal Health (EMPRES-AH) focuses on some 12 to 14 diseases of transboundary nature including foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, sheep and goat pox, peste des petits ruminants, highly pathogenic avian influenza, Rift Valley fever, Newcastle disease, African and classical swine fever, equine encephalitis, and under certain circumstances, rabies and brucellosis.
The links between wildlife and livestock are seamless, and knowledge on management issues is imperative for future practitioners in understanding disease ecology. The key aspect to detection and containment of TADs and EIDs is to have all actors within the production and marketing chain linked with veterinary systems (encompassing those who teach at veterinary faculties, rural and urban practitioners, and regulatory authorities) to learn how to clinically suspect these diseases and call upon animal health specialists in case of uncertainty, and to count on their active participation during emergency simulation exercises at local and national levels.
There is little doubt that the common denominator for lowering risks and threat management of TADs (or other infectious diseases) is strategic veterinary epidemiology. This encompasses efforts to ensure that people heed warnings, good communication of risk factors, disease recognition, detection and diagnosis, and cross-occupational efforts for response and eventual recovery.
The role of the veterinary educator is to place importance on training future practitioners in investigative skills, open-mindedness in developing differential diagnosis lists, sample taking, risk analysis, care in not vectoring diseases off a premise, and knowing whom to contact in the event of mounting uncertainty. The new veterinary graduate should be well equipped to play a key role in globalised societies in the context of developed as well as developing counties.
Representatives of the Animal Health Service (AGAH) at FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division shared their views on this and other related matters at the “First OIE Global Conference on Evolving Veterinary Education for a Safer World” held in Paris, France, 12-14 October 2009.