The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has warned of the need to strengthen surveillance and early detection systems for diseases of domestic and wild animals throughout the world and has recommended making this a major objective of official health policies.
It notes that, over the past year, millions of poultry have fallen victim to highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8. This new strain appeared in the Republic of Korea in January last year before spreading to the People’s Republic of China and Japan and, more recently, to three countries in Europe. Although the outbreaks of this new virus have so far been rapidly controlled by the sanitary authorities, there are important economic repercussions for the poultry sector.
In recent decades, the impact of the globalization 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. Yet the recent discovery of virus H5N8 in Europe serves as a reminder to the international community that a simple natural phenomenon such as migratory movements of wild birds can also cause the worldwide dissemination of a disease.
With 75 percent of human emerging diseases being derived from pathogens transmitted by animals, whether domestic or wild, public health protection is inextricably linked to the preservation of animal health. Transmission of the Ebola virus from a wild animal to a human, followed, by human-to-human transmission on a massive scale is a tragic example.
In this context, the OIE has issued a reminder that poor management of disease control at source in animals - irrespective of whether diseases are potentially transmissible to humans - can have consequences that are often severe for the local population and economy, and even at a regional and global level.
The existence of competent, well-organized national veterinary services, irrespective of a country’s level of development, is a precondition for early detection of animal disease outbreaks and a rapid, transparent response, the OIE says.