Advocates seek greater investment in animal health to prevent future pandemics

Animal health advocates have penned an open letter calling on governments and international agencies to invest in animal health and welfare to prevent another pandemic.
Photo by Dorothea Oldani

Animal health advocates have penned an open letter calling on governments and international agencies to invest in animal health and welfare to prevent another pandemic.

Members of the Action for Animal Health coalition, in a letter marking Marking World Vet Day, assert that the importance of animal health systems to global health security is being overlooked.

One of the weakest health systems is the animal health system, they say.

“At least 75% of new human infectious diseases emerge from animals,” the 11 signatories wrote.

“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.”

They said it was appropriate that the critical role of veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals in global health be recognised on World Veterinary Day on April 24.

“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.”

Veterinarians are at the frontline of the fight against zoonotic disease through prevention, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance, they say.

“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.”

The signatories, which include the World Veterinary Association, Dogs Trust, Brooke, Action for Working Horses and Donkeys, and the International Livestock Research Institute, said they were pleased to see the declaration from 24 world leaders in March 2021 emphasising 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.”

The signatories laid out several actions required 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 the third of 17 sustainable development goals listed by the United Nations — 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;

• 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; and

• Agreeing a funding mechanism that supports global One Health initiatives should be a priority at the G7 meeting in July.

It urged supporters to join its campaign, and call for decision-makers to strengthen animal health systems.

“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.”

The letter was signed by Talal Kishlaf, Officer-in-Charge, The African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources; Chris Wainwright, chief executive of Brooke – Action for Working Horses and Donkeys; Dr Angela Wright, chief scientific adviser for Compassion in World Farming International; Dr Karen Reed, director of Dogs Trust Worldwide; Dr Jimmy Smith, director-general of the International Livestock Research Institute; Richie Alford, director of Research and Impact, Send a Cow; John Dalley MBE, co-founder and president of the Soi Dog Foundation; Professor Andrew R Peters, director, of Supporting Evidence-Based Interventions (SEBI) – Livestock; Dr Giorgia Angeloni, president of Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF) International; James Royston, international head of external affairs, for World Animal Protection; and Dr Patricia Turner, president of the World Veterinary Association.

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