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A rationale for FAO to tackle transboundary animal diseases

15 July 2011 - During the past decades there has been an unprecedented increase in high-impact transboundary animal diseases (TADs) at a global scale. These include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), food-and-mouth disease (FMD), porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), peste de petits ruminants (PPR), highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), and African swine fever (ASF). These TADs carry economic, social, and political consequences to nation-states.

This increase in disease incidence somehow suggests that the collective drivers behind disease emergence and spread (i.e. globalization, increased volume of trade and air, land, and sea traffic, climate change, urbanization, and demographic growth) have become a stronger force than the combined efforts put in place at the national, regional, and international levels to contain TADs. In view of the evolving and prevailing disease environment worldwide, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE), along with donors and nongovernmental organizations, have responded both independently and collaboratively to address classical and novel animal diseases that pose multidimensional threats to animal and human health, food security, economic growth, and rural smallholder livelihoods.

For instance, FAO and OIE created the Global Framework for Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs) as a facilitating mechanism which will endeavor to empower regional alliances in the fight against TADs, to provide for capacity building, and to assist in establishing programs for the specific control of certain TADs based on regional priorities. This joint work has precipitated preparations for a global FMD conference in 2012. Also, FAO is collaborating with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create an ASF alliance, as well as continued USDA support to redress HPAI around the world. Finally, FAO, OIE, and others agencies are coordinating post-rinderpest activities in view of the recently declared global freedom from this disease. As rinderpest becomes history, there is growing consensus to increase attention on PPR.

Another incentive to address TADs is to better understand disease dynamics at the interface shared between animals (domestic and wild) and natural ecosystems. It is already known that, over time, these interactions may lead to contexts in which diseases may find new hosts, or combine with pathogens to increase infectiousness. Additionally, through this narrow focus, FAO and other partners are also enabled to raise public awareness on a wide range of benefits or services that natural ecosystems provide to people: they supply fresh water, filter pollutants from streams, provide breeding grounds for fisheries, control erosion, buffer human communities against storms and natural disasters, harbor insects that pollinate crops or attack crop pests, and naturally take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These services are particularly crucial to poor people in the developing world who depend directly on ecosystems for their livelihoods.

In the end, the rationale for FAO to tackle TADs is that there are little or no options left in terms of disease prevention and control of TADs but to step-up the currently existing efforts. While most priorities are directed to national efforts on disease preparedness and to halt disease spread, the contributions from regional and international bodies have so far received lesser attention. Unless something is done about this increasing disease emergence and spread, the world will continue to lurch from single-issue response to single-issue response, without ever developing a systematic approach that can marry disease foresight and global health security. FAO, with its technical expertise and operational capacities, is strategically positioned to effectively address high-impact emerging and reemerging animal diseases, whether or not these are able cross national borders.

FAO of the UN is an institutional partner of World Veterinary Year (Vet2011) and has recently adopted a resolution declaring Global Freedom from Rinderpest.

© FAO/M. Griffin


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