FAO, OIE and WHO Recommit to Defend against Diseases at the Animal-Human-Ecosystems Interfaces
The FAO, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization have reaffirmed their commitment to continue honing their coordination mechanisms at all levels to defend against emerging diseases that threaten animal health, human health, and global economic and food security during a three-day High Level Technical Meeting hosted by the Mexican government.
The HLTM, held in Mexico City from 15-17 November, focused on "Health Risks at the Human-Animal-Ecosystems Interfaces,” taking animal influenzas, rabies and antimicrobial resistance as entry points for discussion on how the international community has improved its preparedness and response mechanisms to emerging and re-emerging disease threats. The plenary sessions also allowed the international experts to identify what further improvements still need to be made.
Animal influenzas were a major focus, since influenza viruses pose the most imminent threat for widespread disease in humans, as new strains with pandemic potential continuously emerge from the animal world, including from domestic animals produced for food. Some 60 percent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, having their origin in viruses that first circulate in animals before jumping the species barrier.
Rabies is a neglected zoonotic disease which kills up to 70,000 people every year, especially children in developing countries, where treatments are unavailable or expense puts them out of people’s economic reach.
And the misuse of antibiotic medicines in humans and animals is of growing concern, as increasing antimicrobial resistance means there soon could be few effective antibiotic medicines left.
Increasingly, the health of animals and animal food production is negatively affected by drastic changes in the environment and climate change. So the health of ecosystems is also interlinked with human and animal health. For example, growth in human and animal populations results in appropriation of land and habitat for agricultural production. In this way, however, wildlife and domestic animals are also forced into closer contact, and new diseases or re-emerging diseases can more easily pass between them.
The conference was attended by more than 100 experts from 30 countries, including veterinary and public health professionals, academics, natural resources specialists, and representatives from international organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union, the European Union, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the World Bank.
The HLTM is a follow-up to an earlier ministerial-level meeting held in Hanoi, Viet Nam, in April, 2010. The FAO, the OIE and the World Health Organization, supported by the UN System Influenza Coordination (UNSIC), have held a series of meetings meant to increase international coordination, information sharing and disease monitoring for effective prevention of disease and rapid response to disease outbreaks. There have also been efforts to replicate similar partnerships at the grassroots level: among community animal health workers and village veterinarians, human health services, doctors, farmers and natural resource managers.
The FAO has a major role to play through the Codex Alimentarius, managed jointly with the WHO, which sets international standards for safe food production and addresses food-borne diseases. FAO, OIE and the WHO also jointly operate the Global Early Warning System (GLEWS), which monitors for emerging animal disease threats. In addition, FAO and OIE also jointly operate OFFLU, a network of expertise on animal influenzas.
The FAO-OIE-WHO joint work toward adopting a more holistic “One Health” vision of the interconnected health of animals, people and the ecosystems that sustain them aims to garner political and financial commitments to reinforce defences against emerging disease threats.