Resilience
©FAO/Simon Maina

Supporting countries to better prepare and respond to zoonotic diseases: reflections from the Tripartite

06/07/2021

Technical officers from the Tripartite Organizations: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO), discuss zoonotic diseases (those that can pass between humans and animals) and how to support countries with their disease control and prevention interventions.

Specialists

  • Sean Shadomy, Veterinary Epidemiologist, FAO
  • Tianna Brand, Foresight Advisor, International Standards and Science Directorate, OIE
  • Mariana Marrana, Programme Manager, Preparedness and Resilience Department, OIE
  • Stephane de La Rocque, Team lead for the Animal-Human Interface Health Security Preparedness Department, WHO Emergency Program.

1. What factors can increase the emergence and spread of zoonoses? 

Tianna Brand, OIE: The literature and scientific studies reveal numerous factors - environmental, pathogen, host or vector adaptation, to name a few.  The central and recurring theme in emergence and spread are the interactions between humans and animals.  

The opportunities for zoonotic pathogens to emerge are increasing. The growth of the human population and its consumption habits are the underlying factors - or root causes - for the emergence and spread of diseases. Ultimately a larger human population drives higher levels of intensive animal production, and furthermore drives the expansion of crop lands, human settlements and cities. All these factors contribute to the disruption of natural ecosystems and increased encroachment of humans into previously wild areas. Historically, the emergence of new human diseases from animal sources, such as the plague or Ebola, has been associated with major societal change.

Mariana Marrana, OIE: New pathogenic agents appear all the time at the human-animal-environment interface. While, most often, the newly emerged diseases often only result in local transmission before fading away, human activities provide the pathway for local disease events to become regional or global. Therefore, a disease outbreak that could be inconsequential from a global perspective can take pandemic proportions in a matter of weeks, as we saw at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Why is preventing zoonotic diseases important for food security?

Sean Shadomy, FAO: It is critical to control and prevent zoonotic diseases, and to protect livestock in order to ensure food security and safeguard the livelihoods of families and communities. Food production and distribution systems are highly complex and multisectoral, and the full impact of zoonotic diseases on food production and food security, as well as the human health and societal costs and economic impact on producers, is difficult to determine.  

The direct impact of some zoonotic diseases can include high rates of illness and death among food-producing animals, causing mass die-offs among livestock and poultry herds and flocks. They can also cause decreased production, such as by causing poultry to lay fewer eggs, or by causing stillbirths and abortions in meat producing or dairy animals, which mean both less meat and less milk production. In those countries where livestock are used as draught animals, the illness or death in these animals from zoonotic diseases can mean a loss of power and transport for agricultural production. 

Some zoonotic diseases such as brucellosis can be spread in abattoirs and meat-packing facilities, causing debilitating illness and preventing their work, thereby impacting production. However, as witnessed with the COVID-19 pandemic, some zoonotic diseases are even more highly transmissible in these settings. The introduction of zoonotic pathogens into the food production and transport system, either through infected workers or on contaminated products, has led to widespread production and processing facility shutdowns, severely impacting market chains and distribution networks, leading to food shortages. The disruptive effects can be seen up and down the production chain, even causing some livestock producers to cull their animals as they cannot go to market. In addition, the economic impact and complete cessation of use of certain food commodities due to pandemic control measures has negatively affected or even forced closure of producers and processors throughout the production and distribution pathways.  

The responses required to control certain zoonotic diseases can exacerbate the direct losses in animal production. Control measures including culling affected flocks and herds can cause the elimination of whole farms. In addition, national campaigns can cull hundreds of thousands of animals or more. When countries restrict or ban exports from other countries affected by zoonotic diseases of concern for animal trade, this can have tremendous negative economic impact on the producers in the affected countries, potentially driving them out of business. In turn, other exporting countries may move to fill the export trade gap, and this disruption in food trade to countries importing meat (often higher income countries) means that prices for meat will go up in the exporting countries; this in turn can put meat protein out of the reach of less affluent consumers, and impact the food security in those exporting countries.   

3. What lessons have we learned from the COVID-19 outbreak and how will that change the approach to zoonotic disease preparedness? 

Stephane de La Rocque, WHO:  COVID-19 demonstrated the impacts that zoonotic diseases can have on all aspects of society. We all know that pathogens are shared between animals and humans, but this is often a neglected aspect of public health, especially in advanced countries where biosecurity, prevention and curative options keep us safe from many of these diseases. It appeared that some of the capacities we thought were robust in fact still needed to be further consolidated. This includes capacities for coordination between sectors, through a One Health approach. 

The Tripartite has worked through expert consultations to develop tools and guidance for countries. But with COVID-19, we realized now more than ever, that countries needed to be able to access and implement key principles and best practices for the management of zoonotic diseases in the midst of active outbreak response. The Tripartite accelerated the deployment of its tools, and developed online trainings and methods for virtual facilitation to adapt and iteratively improve existing tools and approaches for diseases arising at the human-animal-interface.

4. How can capacity building needs be identified at the human-animal interface? 

Stephane de La Rocque, WHO: The IHR-PVS National Bridging workshops (NBWs) create an opportunity for the human health and veterinary sectors to jointly discuss their respective capacities for health security and to agree on concrete activities to improve their multi-sectoral coordination, through a One Health approach. The jointly developed operational roadmaps resulting from this exercise helps countries to prioritize their investments in building capacities, whether technical, institutional or workforce related. The NBWs provide a first step in One Health operational planning in countries and the implementation of these roadmaps is ensured through operational tools developed by WHO and its partners. 

5.Why did FAO, OIE and WHO come together to write the Tripartite Zoonoses Guide (TZG)

Mariana Marrana, OIE: For many decades the Tripartite Organizations have been collaborating on programmes to support their respective memberships in addressing zoonotic diseases, such as rabies or zoonotic influenzas, and health risks such as antimicrobial resistance.  As part of this collaboration, the organizations advocate for an approach which is inclusive of a variety of disciplines in an effort to bridge knowledge and practices to respond or address zoonotic diseases and other health risks at the human-animal-environment interface. In the simplest of terms, we refer to this as the One Health approach.

The Tripartite Zoonoses Guide is a reflection of this approach and ways to make it operational at national level. It brings together principles for One Health, along with best practices in play in countries and information on how to set up efficient coordination mechanisms across sectors to address health threats, notably in regard to strategic planning and emergency preparedness or surveillance and information sharing to name a few. 

6. What makes the Tripartite Zoonoses Guide unique? 

Sean Shadomy, FAO: The TZG was developed under the leadership of FAO, OIE and WHO with the technical contributions of hundreds of experts representing UN and other international organizations, national ministries and agencies, and organizations representing civil society. This global team of experts developed detailed guidance to support countries in taking a multisectoral, One Health approach to address zoonotic diseases, and included recommendations for best practices for implementation as well as country examples. 

The TZG was developed to be applicable to all countries and regions, and to address zoonotic disease threats, be they endemic or newly identified in a country or region. To go further, operational tools are now being developed and pilot tested to provide step-by-step guidance on implementing specific technical sections of the TZG – this detailed advice has been requested by countries. The Tripartite Zoonoses Guide and the operational tools are broadly applicable and not disease-specific. The entire toolkit is also flexible enough to support multisectoral collaborations to address other health threats at the human-animal-environment interface, such as food safety and antimicrobial resistance.

7. How can the Tripartite Zoonoses Guide and operational tools support country preparedness for their national context? 

Stephane de La Rocque, WHO:  The Tripartite Zoonoses Guide highlights over 80 country examples, ranging from the development of effective government One Health mechanisms or platforms, to zoonotic disease prioritization, joint risk assessment, planning and preparedness, investigation and response, coordinated surveillance and workforce development. Designed for decision makers and technical staff in countries, we recognized the need to create operational tools to support implementation of key principles. Three operational tools have been developed so far to support a step-by-step One Health approach in countries for joint risk assessment, multisectoral government mechanisms, and coordinated surveillance and information sharing. These tools are facilitative and adaptive to country context and allow for sustainable and iterative use as needed. 

8. What will the Tripartite do to further promote the use of the Tripartite Zoonoses Guide? 

Sean Shadomy, FAO: As part of a coordinated communication and dissemination strategy for the TZG, the Tripartite organizations have promoted its use through their respective communication channels, including websites, publications, social media, and throughout their respective networks. In addition, they have introduced the TZG and the operational tools through international conferences and virtual events such as the 2021 World One Health Congress. 

The Tripartite provide training on the use of the TZG and the operational tools to the Tripartite regional and subregional offices as part of the pilot process for the operational tools. The goal is to increase the use of the TZG and to arrive at the point where countries and regions can use the TZG and the operational tools without Tripartite facilitation. Training on the TZG in six languages is freely available online

9. How can we further improve our response to zoonotic diseases?  

Tianna Brand, OIE: Pragmatically, working in isolation to address complex and constantly evolving parameters, really only provides one or a limited view of a much larger, dynamic and interconnected problem(s) - potentially worsening the issue.   

Improving the operationalization of the One Health approach requires identifying the linkages between disciplines, organizations, data, resources and stakeholders, to bridge knowledge and actions and thereby prevent, mitigate or adapt to health risks. 

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For more information

Photo cover: Lab manager from Kenya’s International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) inspects samples as part of efforts to strengthen One Health Cooperation in managing avian influenza. ©FAO/Simon Maina

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