17 February 2022

Pandemic treaty: prevention won’t work until we invest in animal health

Governments are preparing to negotiate a historic global pandemic treaty to protect us from future pandemics. Frances Goodrum (Brooke) and Dr Patricia Turner (World Veterinary Association) highlight why prevention won't succeed without better animal health services.

Brooke India's team carrying out free rapid blood testing for diseases, like surra/tetanus.

Governments are preparing to negotiate a historic global treaty to protect the world from future pandemics.

Last year’s special World Health Assembly agreed that the new accord will focus on early detection and prevention of pandemics, as well as the “One Health” approach (which recognises the links between human, environmental and animal health).

But this ambition will fail if the negotiations miss the urgent need to invest in animal health services in low and middle income countries. 

Prevention, not reaction

The COVID-19 pandemic most likely emerged when the virus was passed from animals to humans. We can’t rely on reactive measures taken after humans are infected. We need to address the root cause of pandemics, which means minimising pathogens from infecting animals in the first place.

The World Health Organization’s One Health High Level Expert Panel recognises that a One Health approach is not a one-way process for protecting human health alone. A holistic approach is needed to improve the health of humans, as well as animals and ecosystems.  

We’ve seen the global devastation of zoonotic diseases. The most common source of emerging diseases is from wildlife, but domestic animals can also transmit zoonotic diseases. Poor livestock care and unsustainable farming practices are also a major contributor to growing global antimicrobial resistance (AMR).  

5 critical considerations for a robust pandemic treaty

An Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) will convene next week to begin the long process of establishing an accord. To protect the world from future pandemics, the INB negotiations must consider the following recommendations:

  • Include civil society organisations in negotiations. Experts and civil society organisations working in human, animal and/or ecosystem health must be able to provide their invaluable insights on animal and environmental health during negotiations.
  • Increase and upskill the animal health workforce. Skilled frontline workers help build resilient communities and health systems that can respond to threats and emerging pathogens. 
  • Provide access to good quality veterinary medicines and vaccines. Animal health professionals must be able to readily access and administer quality medications to treat and mitigate zoonotic diseases, and to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance. 
  • Improve early surveillance systems to detect emerging diseases in wildlife and domestic animal populations. We need better surveillance of wildlife and domestic animal populations, from the community level to the global level. Preventive measures must be enhanced at critical transmission points such as farms, border crossings and markets.  Community members and health workers in rural and marginalised communities should be trained to monitor animal health locally. 
  • Improve care for livestock. Sustainable livestock production practices must be promoted to improve animal health, reduce environmental damage and stop encroachment on wildlife habitats. Better livestock care also leads to less use of antimicrobials.

These integral recommendations will also have knock-on benefits for improving food security, nutrition, climate resilience and income security for the world’s most marginalised communities. Without more targeted interventions, we risk failing to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Brooke and the World Veterinary Association are currently developing a global list of essential medicines and vaccines for animal health practitioners. Sign up to our newsletter to find out more.

Both organisations are also part of the Action for Animal Health coalition, which advocates for investment in animal health systems in low and middle income countries.