Call for a major strengthening of animal disease surveillance

A major strengthening of animal disease surveillance is needed on a worldwide scale, with more attention required to be given to early detection systems, says the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The organisation’s latest warning on global disease risks has been triggered by the ease with which avian flu has moved around the world, giving rise to fresh concerns that other diseases could do the same.

“Millions of poultry have already fallen victim to the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 in less than 11 months,” said OIE. “This new strain appeared in the Republic of Korea in January before spreading in the People’s Republic of China and Japan; more recently arriving in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.”

While acknowledging that these outbreaks had so far been rapidly controlled by the sanitary authorities, OIE pointed out that there were “important economic repercussions” to be considered.

“In recent decades, the impact of the globalisation of movements of animals, people and commercial products has greatly increased the possibilities for pathogens to spread from one side of the world to the other in record time,” warned OIE, adding that the poor management of disease control in animals could have consequences that were often severe for local populations and economies, at both a regional and global levels.

While accepting that combating diseases at their source is an expense for the budgets of individual States, or the international community, OIE argued that such amounts would be “derisory compared to the costs involved in dealing with a panzootic or a pandemic”.

The organisation also warned that the continued “explosion of demand for animal protein will bring a profound change in livestock production in favour of more intensive systems”, a process which will increase the need for the introduction of ever stricter veterinary controls.

“And we must do this quickly,” concluded OIE. “The pathogens will not wait.”

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