“One health” approach vital in combating zoonotic diseases, UN hears

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A Brooke team member carrying out blood sample testing for diseases such as surra and tetanus can provide a diagnosis to the owner for free within 20 minutes.
A Brooke team member carrying out blood sample testing for diseases such as surra and tetanus can provide a diagnosis to the owner for free within 20 minutes. © Brooke / Atul Loke / Panos Pictures

A UN side event has heard of the urgent need to focus on animal health systems in order to avoid a repeat of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Those taking part in the side event held by international working equine charity Brooke at last week’s UN High-Level Political Forum learned that the threat from zoonotic diseases — those that transfer between humans and animals — is huge, with 75% of emerging infections having been transferred from animals. The event highlighted the vital need for investment in animal health systems to improve human and animal health, and prevent future outbreaks of zoonotic disease. This HLPF was the first to be held virtually, following the cancellation of the physical event in New York.

With the Covid-19 pandemic likely originating in wet markets that largely escape veterinary surveillance, it is clear that animal health systems need strengthening as a pillar of One Health, an approach to improving health that links human, animal and environmental health inextricably.

Brooke’s new Action for Animal Health campaign focusing on animal health was launched at the side event attended by 270 people in 38 countries, and the charity is asking organisations that want to work in partnership to improve animal health systems to join.

One of the school children of the Mathangaura primary school, Wanguru, Kenya, with his donkey.
One of the school children of the Mathangaura primary school, Wanguru, Kenya, with his donkey. © Brooke / Petterik Wiggers

The initiative aims to bring together animal health organisations across the globe to develop a shared policy agenda for the sector. It will demonstrate the importance of animal health systems and call on governments, policymakers and organisations to adequately train vets, ensure essential veterinary medicines and vaccines are available, support laboratories and public health institutions. It will also work with communities to improve the health and welfare of their animals.

These currently overlooked areas, Brooke argues, are critical to poverty reduction, sustainable development and preventing the next pandemic.

At the side event, OIE Deputy Director Dr Jean-Philippe Dop said the Covid-19 pandemic would have an undeniable effect on the ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the coming decade, and has also demonstrated the need to build global health systems with a “One Health” approach.

“Now, more than ever, the health of planet requires us to recognise the complex, interdependent relationships we have with the companion, production and wild animals that we depend on for our food, livelihoods and wellbeing.”

Event moderator Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, who is the head of Strategic Partnerships, External Affairs and Research at Brooke, said vets and para-vets were on the front line of the fight against zoonotic disease every day, through prevention, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance. “And yet, they face a severe lack of training, medicines, resources and support systems. We need to work together to change this.

“Animals play a significant role in food security, water security and improved income, benefitting the most vulnerable communities in low and middle income countries,” says Brooke's Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly
“Animals play a significant role in food security, water security and improved income, benefitting the most vulnerable communities in low and middle income countries,” says Brooke’s Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly. © Brooke / Atul Loke / Panos Pictures

“Ensuring animals are healthy is also critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Animals, particularly livestock, play a significant role in food security, water security and improved income, benefitting the most vulnerable communities in low and middle income countries,” Nhan-O’Reilly said.

Also at the side event, attendees heard from Laura Kavata from Brooke East Africa, based in Kenya, and Dr Raymond Briscoe from the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan (DCA), which Brooke works closely with. They gave examples from each country outlining the interdependencies between animals and humans, not just in basic health, but also how animals contribute to human livelihoods.

Working livestock; horses, donkeys and mules, are often overlooked by policymakers, despite their contribution to an estimated 600 million people around the world. Antonio Rota from the International Fund for Agricultural Development commented on contributions that healthy animals make to reducing poverty and hunger, and called for smallholder farmers to be put in the centre of policies.

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