Risk analysis is something that we all do intuitively in our everyday life as well as in our professional work. Only recently has it developed into a more formal discipline and is increasingly used in many fields of endeavour. In animal health it has perhaps been most widely applied in quarantine. Quarantine risk analyses are used in reaching decisions as to the most appropriate health conditions for imported animals and animal products and strategies for quarantine operations.
Risk analysis is a tool that can also be used to good advantage for animal disease emergency preparedness planning. In this context, it is most readily applied to preparedness planning for exotic diseases (or exotic strains of endemic disease agents) and it will be described here for this purpose. There is no reason, however, why it cannot be applied in other animal health emergency planning.
Risk analysis comprises three components: risk assessment, risk management and risk communication.
In this component the risks of an event occurring or of taking a particular course of action are first identified and described. The likelihood of these risks occurring is then estimated, their potential consequences evaluated and the assessment of the risk modified accordingly. For example, an exotic disease with a high risk of entry to a country but only a low risk of establishment or minimal potential socio-economic consequences would only obtain a low overall score on a risk assessment.
Risks can be assessed in a quantified, semi-quantified or qualitative way. It is inherently extremely difficult to quantify or actually put probability numbers to risks in many biological systems because of the lack of historical precedents and serious gaps in available biological data. It is recommended that qualitative risk assessments be used for exotic diseases. The risks can be described as “extreme”, “high”, “medium” or “low”, or by a simple scoring system, for example, 1-5 for the level of risk and 1-5 for the level of potential consequences.
This is the process of identifying, documenting and implementing measures to reduce risks and their consequences. Risks can never be completely eliminated. The aim is to adopt procedures to reduce the level of risk to an acceptable level.
In essence, this manual provides the risk management framework for emergency animal diseases.
This is the process of exchange of information and opinions on risk between risk analysts and stakeholders. Stakeholders in this context include all those who could be affected by the consequences of risks, that is, everyone from farmers to politicians. It is important that risk assessment and risk management strategies be fully discussed with stakeholders, so that they feel comfortable that no unnecessary risks are being taken and that risk management costs are a worthwhile insurance.
To ensure ownership of decisions, risk analysts and decision-makers should consult with stakeholders throughout the whole process of risk analysis so that the risk management strategies address their concerns, and decisions are well understood and broadly supported.
The risk assessment component is best carried out by the central epidemiological unit in the national veterinary headquarters as part of the national early warning system for transboundary animal diseases (TADs) and other emergency diseases. Risk management and risk communication are tasks for everyone, but these should be coordinated by the CVO.
It should be remembered that risks do not stay static. They will change with such factors as evolution and spread of epidemic livestock diseases internationally, emergence of new diseases and changing international trading patterns for the country. Risk analysis should therefore not be seen as a one-off activity. It should be repeated and updated regularly.
As described above, risk assessment consists of identifying the risks, assessing the likelihood of their occurrence and modifying them by an evaluation of their potential consequences.
Risk exotic diseases (or disease agent strains) should be identified by keeping a close watch on the international livestock disease situation. This should be a routine function of the central epidemiological unit. Apart from the scientific literature, the most valuable source of information is the International Office of Epizootics, through such publications as its weekly disease reports and the annual World Animal Health, and through consultation of its Handistatus database. Disease intelligence is also available from FAO, for example in the EMPRES transboundary animal diseases bulletin, which is published quarterly and is also available on the Internet at: www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/agricult/aga/agah/ empres/empres.htm
PROMED, an Internet server and mailing service, provides an extremely useful forum for rapid dissemination of official and unofficial information on animal, plant and human disease occurrences around the world and Animal Health Net is also a useful source of information.
Having identified and listed the exotic disease threats, the next step is to assess the seriousness of the threat of entry of each disease to the country and identify the routes and mechanisms by which it may enter. Questions to be raised include:
The next step is to evaluate how serious the socio-economic consequences might be if there is an incursion of the disease. Questions to be raised include:
By addressing these questions and issues it will be possible to build up a risk profile of the various exotic or strategic diseases. Furthermore, an idea of the magnitude of the risk presented by each disease may be judged in qualitative if not quantitative terms. Most important, it will be possible to prioritize diseases for risk. It will also be possible to ascertain where the pressure points may be for entry of the diseases and how veterinary services and animal disease preparedness planning may need to be strengthened.
The type of risk assessment that has been described will be of value for: