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Open letter: The importance of animal health systems to global health security is being overlooked

To mark World Vet Day on April 24, Action for Animal Health coalition members signed an open letter calling on governments and international agencies to invest in animal health and welfare in order to prevent another pandemic.

We write this letter as members and supporters of the Action for Animal Health coalition to call for support in preventing the next pandemic. As the UN-Secretary General has reminded us, we are only as strong as the weakest health system (UN).

One of the weakest health systems is the animal health system. At least 75% of new human infectious diseases emerge from animals (FAO, UNEP). COVID-19 joins a long list of other zoonotic diseases (infectious diseases transmitted from animals to humans) with potentially fatal consequences for humans, such as rabies, ebola, SARS and avian influenza. The urgent need for investment in animal health and welfare to prevent another pandemic is clearer than ever.

On World Veterinary Day 2021 (24 April), the critical role of veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals in global health must be recognised. Across the world, they have stepped up to support the response to COVID-19. By keeping animals healthy and remaining vigilant for new disease outbreaks, veterinarians play a critical role in preventing the next pandemic.

These professionals are at the frontline of the fight against zoonotic disease through prevention, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance. They are the first point of contact to support and advise animal-owning communities and individuals. They play a role in diagnosis and disease surveillance in clinics, on farms, at border posts, markets, in slaughterhouses and also for wildlife. They help curb antimicrobial resistance and prevent disease outbreaks through administering vaccines and medicines in safe doses.

We were pleased to see the declaration from 24 world leaders in March 2021 emphasised the need to adopt a One Health approach. This approach recognises that the health of people and our planet depends on respecting the complex relationships that we have with animals we rely upon every day of our lives. However, chronic underfunding and a shortfall in the veterinary workforce has limited the capacity of veterinarians and other professionals within animal health systems to fully realise the potential of One Health initiatives, despite their willingness and expertise in this area.

Now, more than ever, animals and the health systems that protect them are vital to the security and economic and social well-being of humanity.

We must see the following actions to strengthen animal health systems and prevent the next pandemic:

  • Governments and international agencies should prioritise strong animal health systems and build on existing efforts to operationalise One Health strategies to support the attainment of SDG 3 – to achieve good health and well-being
  • More veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals must be trained to standards established by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
  • Immediate funding should be made available to map the gaps in animal health systems and plot solutions through a Global Action Plan for Animal Health
  • Agreeing a funding mechanism that supports global One Health initiatives should be a priority at the G7 meeting in July.

We need your help to make this a reality. Show your support by signing on to the Action for Animal Health campaign, and call for decision makers to strengthen animal health systems.

We are counting on your support. No one is safe until we are all safe, and unless we consider animals in our efforts to prevent disease outbreaks, the same mistakes will happen again. Please help us make One
Health a reality that protects people, animals and the planet alike.

Signed by:

Mr Talal Kishlaf, Officer-in-Charge, The African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources

Mr Chris Wainwright, CEO, Brooke – Action for Working Horses and Donkeys

Dr. Angela Wright, Chief Scientific Adviser, Compassion in World Farming International

Dr. Karen Reed, Director, Dogs Trust Worldwide

Dr. Jimmy Smith, Director General, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Mr Richie Alford, Director of Research and Impact, Send a Cow

Mr John Dalley MBE, Co-Founder and President. Soi Dog Foundation

Professor Andrew R Peters, Director, Supporting Evidence-Based Interventions (SEBI) – Livestock

Dr. Giorgia Angeloni, President, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF) International

Mr James Royston, International Head of External Affairs, World Animal Protection

Dr. Patricia Turner, President, World Veterinary Association

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