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Our health systems won’t prevent pandemics, unless G20 invest in animal health

An open letter to G20 leaders from the Action for Animal Health coalition.  

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on our lives, diseases from animals were causing 2.7 million human deaths a year. Over 75% of new human infectious diseases emerge from animals, with zoonotic diseases affecting over 2 billion people. Over the last decade, zoonotic diseases have directly cost economies over $20 billion, with indirect losses of over $200 billion.

Healthy animals are critical to human health. For example, mass vaccination of dogs is the most cost-effective way to prevent rabies in people. 1.3 billion people depend on livestock for an income.

The G20 have recognised that we’re only as strong as our weakest health system. The only way to protect us from future pandemics is through a holistic approach called “One Health”, which focuses on the health of people, animals and the environment. But the transformative potential of One Health can only be realised if G20 leaders invest in weak animal health systems across the world.

Historic underinvestment in these systems has led to strained national veterinary services with insufficient staff and fragile infrastructure. There are critical shortages in medicines and vaccines for animals. People struggle to access health services for the animals they depend on for their livelihoods. And inadequate disease surveillance at crucial points, like border crossings and farms, fail to protect people and animals.

Action for Animal Health is a global coalition of multilateral and non-governmental organisations. We urge G20 leaders to finance and build sustainable health systems for people, planet and animals by:

  1. Ensuring even the remotest communities have access to animal health services. Governments must work with communities to understand which diseases are impacting them and deliver services that meet their needs.
  2. Increasing and upskilling the animal health workforce to plug global shortages. Governments need to map these gaps, before expanding, educating and supporting the workforce.
  3. Improving access to safe medicines and vaccines for animals. Good quality veterinary medicines and vaccines used by appropriately trained professionals reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance, and help protect animals and people from the spread of disease. Governments must close the dangerous gap in medicines and vaccines globally.
  4. Working with communities to develop early warning disease surveillance systems. Surveillance systems need to be improved to identify emerging risks, rather than reacting too slowly or failing to detect new pathogens until it is too late. Governments must strengthen surveillance at all levels where disease outbreaks could be spotted early.

Finally, the G20 must ensure that any new funding mechanism for One Health initiatives adequately prioritises animal health systems.

Signed by:
Dr Nick Nwankpa, Acting Director, The African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources
Chris Wainwright, CEO, Brooke – Action for Working Horses and Donkeys
Philip Lymbery, Global CEO, Compassion in World Farming
Dr Karen Reed, Director, Dogs Trust Worldwide
Dr Carolin Schumacher, CEO, Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed)
Prof. Louis H Nel, Executive Director, Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC)
Dr Jimmy Smith, Director General, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Paul Stuart, CEO, Send a Cow
John Dalley MBE, Co-founder and President, Soi Dog Foundation
Prof. Andrew R Peters, Director, Supporting Evidence-Based Interventions (SEBI) – Livestock
Dr Giorgia Angeloni, President, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF) International
Dr Patricia Turner, President, World Veterinary Association

Read our full recommendations for governments.

Watch this video on how animal health is crucial to One Health: