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Experts highlight importance of animal health in pandemic treaty plans

A new pandemic instrument must include actions to minimise the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to people. This was the prevailing message as an all-women panel came together for Action for Animal Health’s online event on Tuesday 28 June.

Participants from around the world joined experts in animal health and environmental health to make the case for strengthening animal health systems and protecting the environment to prevent another pandemic.

Global moderator and broadcaster Patricia Amira chaired the event.

Dr Klara Saville – Head of Global Animal Health and Welfare, Community Development and Research at Brooke – set the scene by explaining that weak animal health systems must be addressed to prevent zoonotic disease spilling over from animals to people. Treaty negotiations must include animal health and environmental organisations to make sure any new instrument prevents pandemics at source.

Dr Chadia Wannous, One Health Global Coordinator for the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, formally OIE), said integrating One Health throughout the instrument is fundamental to address the risks faced at the human-animal-environment interface. She urged civil society organisations working on animal health, environmental health, and One Health, to make statements at the negotiation’s public hearings and form ‘official relations’ with the World Health Organization.

Dr Mariana Vale – Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Preventing Pandemics at the Source, and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – spoke on the ecology and cost of pandemic prevention. Halving deforestation, shutting down or regulating wildlife markets and trade, improving biosecurity in animal farming, and enhancing viral surveillance, will reduce the risk of pandemics. It could save 1.6 million lives a year at about 5% of yearly cost of emerging infectious diseases.

Dr Jeniffer Atim, Veterinary Officer at Conservation Through Public Health, discussed how the organisation trains village health and conservation teams in Uganda to reach out to households to prevent infectious diseases. Teams are responsible for reporting diseases so that interventions can be made. Community participation is vital to prevent zoonotic diseases spreading from animals to people, and vice versa (reverse zoonosis).

Dr Angélique Angot, from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) showed how a One Health approach can successfully control rabies. In Bali, FAO worked with stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, to provide rabies vaccines for dogs, training for vaccination teams, and mass media campaigns to raise awareness of the disease. Rabies cases in animals dropped by more than 64%, and in human cases dropped by 68% in a year. If there is a system in place to control rabies, diseases with pandemic potential can also be prevented.

Action for Animal Health calls for any new pandemic instrument to include provisions to prevent the spill over of zoonotic diseases from animals to people.

Read our recommendations for a pandemic instrument here