A television report from a distant country can seem very unreal. Seeing people suffering with disease when they are far away in a foreign land may be very sad, but if it does not affect you directly it is easy to turn off the TV and forget about what you have seen.
But when it is one of your loved ones that has been infected by a disease normally restricted to animals, and you are faced not only with their suffering but also have to come to terms with the horror of minimal treatment options, then it is a different story.
For a variety of reasons, I was pleased to see that at the end of May, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the FAO and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology to study species-swapping diseases that can move between wild animals, domestic livestock and humans.
A key goal of the partnership is to determine which agroecological landscapes represent the greatest risk for disease transmission among humans, livestock and animal populations.
Among other things, the agreement also commits FAO and the Institute to helping countries strengthen their national capacity to balance preservation of natural resources and biodiversity with an expansion and intensification of agricultural production to ensure food security.
The FAO notes that disease dynamics can no longer be considered in isolation within the livestock sector but must be placed into a broader context of sustainable agriculture, socio-economic development, environment protection and sustainability.
The expertise and resources of the two organizations will be brought together, and in today’s interconnected world, the initiative is not before time.
While birds in particular have always migrated and have always been carriers of disease, the growing intensity of agricultural production and the shrinking of the world due to increased trade mean that an animal disease can be easily spread.
Weak or no biosecurity on farms is not only increasingly financially irresponsible, but it has wider implications. When diseases jump species, allowing any reservoir of infection increases the possibility of humans becoming infected. And as the chances of this increase, the chances of someone you know becoming infected will grow.
I, for one, welcome this initiative from the FAO and Max Planck Institute.