Animal health

Veterinary public health

Veterinary public health tackles issues affecting public health, through improving animal health. Livestock intensification, shifts in land use and food supply systems, increased global travel and trade, and climate change – often compounded by poverty and poor health systems – all present challenges to human and animal health. These include:

Zoonoses (diseases transmitted between animals and humans) account for more than 60 percent of known human infectious pathogens. Some 70 percent of new pathogens, have an animal origin such as the SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 coronaviruses, the causes of COVID-19 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), highly pathogenic influenza (H5N1 and H7N9), and the Ebola virus. These diseases can spread between countries in a matter of hours or days leading to human illness and loss of lives and livelihoods. At the same time, zoonotic diseases that are endemic to many countries, such as rabies, anthrax, brucellosis and zoonotic tuberculosis, contribute to persistent disease and economic burden through impacts on health and livelihoods, particularly in poor and marginalized populations.

Food Safety
Unhealthy animals that produce food products or which directly enter the food chain can be infected with certain pathogens and present a public health threat. Increased complexity in food chains and food production systems are leading to increasing burden of food-borne zoonoses such as salmonella and E. coli, which are linked to livestock production practices and contamination of food during processing.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)
Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is an increasing global threat to public health, food security and food safety, animal production and livelihoods. Misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in the livestock industry is contributing to the build-up of resistance throughout the food chain. Untreatable infections due to AMR present an urgent animal and human health issue and can impact food security. Good veterinary care, welfare standards and hygiene reduce the need to use antibiotics.

Addressing all of these issues requires collaborative and cross-sectoral efforts using a One Health approach.

Working with the public health sector

FAO works closely with public health sector partners to tackle health threats at the human-‑animal-environment interface. We provide strategies, tools and guidance to reduce the impact of diseases that directly or indirectly affect human and animal health and food security. For example:

  • Rabies kills 59 000 people every year and disproportionately affects children and poor rural families. The disease causes close to a million dollars in direct economic losses every year, and globally annual costs to treat humans following dog bites are almost two billion dollars. Rabies also has a substantial impact on agriculture when agricultural workers must avoid packs of rabid dogs. FAO is collaborating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) to foster the United Against Rabies Forum as a network of partners and stakeholders committed to achieving Zero human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.
  • Brucellosis presents a significant public health challenge and poses major financial burdens in countries where the disease remains endemic. Brucellosis in livestock causes abortions, breeding failure and reduced milk yield, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in global annual losses. Human brucellosis is a chronic, debilitating disease often causing permanent disablement. FAO is collaborating with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop Brucellosis One Health Guidance and Tools, for both public and veterinary health services to work together.
  • Zoonotic tuberculosis is a form of tuberculosis in people, which is predominantly caused by the pathogen of bovine tuberculosis. The human burden of this disease cannot be reduced without improving standards of food safety and controlling the disease in animals. FAO is working with WHO on the ‘End TB Strategy’.
Developing international guidance and raising international standards

FAO partners with WHO and WOAH to provide international guidance for countries to develop and improve their capacity to address zoonotic diseases and related threats. For example, the three agencies jointly published Taking a Multisectoral, One Health Approach: A Tripartite Guide to Addressing Zoonotic Diseases in Countries, and are developing operational tools to provide detailed guidance supporting countries implementation of the guidance to conduct joint risk assessment, build multisectoral, One Health coordination mechanisms and build or strengthen coordinated surveillance for zoonotic diseases.

FAO works with WOAH to support their continued refinement of the standards contained within the Animal Health Code and the Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines, and development of WOAH Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) mission-specific content for rabies.