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International Meeting on Health Risks at the Human-Animal-Ecosystems Interface

FAO experts will be participating in an international High Level Technical Meeting in Mexico City from 15-17 November, which will address “Health Risks at the Human-Animal-Ecosystems Interfaces.” Technical experts for the FAO, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization will discuss three topics – animal influenzas, antimicrobial/antibiotic resistance, and rabies to gauge how international institutions and governments have been able to improve their coordination and response mechanisms to safeguard human health and economic security by tackling disease threats at source: most often where humans, animals, and ecosystems meet. They will also address any gaps to be filled to better defend against health threats.

Some 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, passing from animals to humans, including diseases that have epidemic or pandemic potential, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and even HIV/AIDS.

At the international level, there is a growing awareness that the structures and mechanisms put in place to defend against HPAI need to be maintained and strengthened to handle the growing number of disease threats that typically emerge from pathogens in animals. Scientists are increasingly adopting a “One Health” approach to safeguarding human health and economic security, which views health through a holistic lens that takes into account human interconnectedness with the health of animals, food sources, shifts in ecosystems and resulting new interactions among species of wildlife and humans.

Animal influenzas are the prime example of how human health, veterinary health and conservation authorities have been made to better coordinate over the years since cases of HPAI had a global surge starting in 2003. Rabies will be addressed as a growing disease threat especially in the most vulnerable countries, where a lack of awareness and resources has children especially falling victim to a disease that is nearly 100 percent fatal if left untreated. Antimicrobial resistance is also a major concern, since overuse and misuse of antibiotics in livestock can create resistance to antibiotic medicines not only in animals but also in humans. In fact, at present anti-microbial resistance is developing faster than new medicines are being developed.

The HLTM is being hosted by the Ministry of Health of the government of Mexico. The final goal is to garner international political support for building stronger linkages in the veterinary health, human health, and conservation institutions to prevent diseases at source. It builds upon earlier ministerial-level meetings and aims for a final declaration on the issue in 2012.