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Partnership between US, FAO trains 4,700 vets to manage animal diseases
Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Rome
A United States-FAO partnership working to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to manage outbreaks of diseases in farm animals has, in just 12 months, succeeded in training over 4,700 veterinary health professionals in 25 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East.

These included Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Laos People's Democratic Republic , Liberia, Mali, Myanmar, Nepal, Senegal, Sierra Leone, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam.

The technical training sessions, provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization, covered a gamut of key competencies, including disease surveillance and forecasting, laboratory operations, bio-safety and bio-security, prevention and control methods and outbreak response strategies.

About 3,266 vets in Asia, 619 in West Africa, 459 in East Africa, and 363 in the Middle-East benefited. They are at the forefront of efforts to stop new diseases at their source.

“Over the course of this relationship, we’ve learned that there are many mutually beneficial areas of interest between the food and agricultural community and the human health community,” said Dennis Carroll, director, Global Health Security and Development Unit, USAID.

“A partnership with FAO not only enables us to protect human populations from future viral threats, but also to protect animal populations from viruses that could decimate food supplies. It’s not just a global health and infectious disease issue, but also a food security, food safety and economic growth issue,” he added.

“About 75 per cent of new infectious diseases that have emerged in recent decades originated in animals before jumping to us Homo sapiens, a terrestrial mammal. This is why improving adequately discovering and tackling animal disease threats at source represents a strategic high-ground in pre-empting future pandemics,” said Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer, FAO.

“A proactive approach is absolutely critical, and for that, the world needs well-trained, up-to-speed professionals — biologists, ecologists, microbiologists, modellers, physicians and veterinarians — which is why the United States' consistent support for building up that kind of capacity has been invaluable,” he added.

Viral risks
FAO studies have shown that population growth, agricultural expansion and environmental encroachment, and the rise of inter-continental food supply chains in recent decades have dramatically altered how diseases emerge, jump species boundaries, and spread.

A recent study published by Carroll and experts from several institutions, including FAO, has suggested that just  0.01 per cent of the viruses behind zoonotic disease outbreaks are known to science. The authors have proposed The Global Virome Project, an international partnership aimed at characterising the riskiest of these. Doing so would allow more proactive responses to disease threats, with benefits not only for public health, but also for the livelihoods of poor, livestock-depending farming communities.

Partnering for global health security

The FAO-USAID partnership on animal health goes back over a decade.

Experts from the two organisations will meet in Rome this week to review progress achieved in the past year and how to respond to threats like species-jumping zoonotic illnesses, the growing trends of antimicrobial resistance, options for intervention measures in food production and the protection of public health.

In addition to the training sessions, via the USAID-Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) programme, FAO conducts research and advises on policy in order to help countries increase their resilience to disease emergence and protect animal and human health.

And to enable rapid responses by governments to disease events, FAO has leveraged USAID support to work with the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depots to establish a series of emergency equipment and gear stockpiles in 15 countries that facilitate rapid and adequate responses to outbreaks.

FAO is also a key player in and advisor to the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a growing partnership of over 60 countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations working to improve early detection of and responses to infectious disease threats.

USAID support under the GHSA umbrella is helping FAO engage with 17 countries in Africa and Asia to strengthen capabilities to detect and respond to zoonotic diseases.

Thanks to USAID support for the EPT and GSHA, FAO is actively tackling disease issues and building national capacities in over 30 countries.

Economic impacts & health consequences

Beyond the risks posed to human health, animal diseases can cost billions of dollars and hamstringing economic growth.

All the most damaging outbreaks of high-impact disease in recent decades had an animal source, including H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza, H1N1 pandemic influenza, Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

For example, the H5N1 outbreak of the mid-2000s caused an estimated $30 billion in economic losses globally. Afew years later, H1N1 racked up as much as $55 billion in damages.

Not to mention that for millions of the world’s poorest people, animals are their primary capital assets (equity on four legs). Losing them can push these families out of self-reliance and into destitution.
 
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