16 July 2020

UN side event highlights urgent need to focus on animal health systems to avoid repeat of COVID-19

On 10 July 2020, Brooke and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Senegal to the United Nations (UN), held a side event at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), hosted by the UN. It highlighted the vital need for investment in animal health systems to improve human and animal health, and prevent future outbreaks of zoonotic disease. This HLPF was the first to be held virtually, following the decision to cancel the physical event in New York.

The side event, attended by 270 people from 38 countries, included speeches from Dr Jean-Philippe Dop, Deputy Director of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Prof. Sarah Cleaveland from University of Glasgow and Dr Papa Seck, advisor to The Government of Senegal.

The threat from zoonotic diseases, those that transfer between humans and animals, is huge, with 75% of emerging infections have been transferred from animals. With the COVID-19 pandemic likely originating in wet markets that largely escape veterinary surveillance, it is clear that animal health systems need strengthening as a pillar of One Health, an approach to improving health that links human, animal and environmental health inextricably.

The COVID-19 pandemic will have an undeniable effect on the ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the coming decade, and has also demonstrated the need to build global health systems with a “One Health” approach. Now, more than ever, the health of planet requires us to recognise the complex, interdependent relationships we have with the companion, production and wild animals that we depend on for our food, livelihoods and wellbeing.

Dr Jean-Philippe Dop, Deputy Director of the OIE

Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, the event moderator and head of Strategic Partnerships, External Affairs and Research at Brooke said:

“Vets and para-vets are on the front line of the fight against zoonotic disease every day, through prevention, diagnosis, treatment and surveillance. And yet, they face a severe lack of training, medicines, resources and support systems. We need to work together to change this.

“Ensuring animals are healthy is also critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Animals, particularly livestock, play a significant role in food security, water security and improved income, benefitting the most vulnerable communities in low and middle income countries.”  

Credit: Atul Loke/Panos Pictures

Also at the side event, attendees heard from Laura Kavata from Brooke East Africa, based in Kenya, and Dr Raymond Briscoe from the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan (DCA), which Brooke works closely with. They gave examples from each country outlining the interdependencies between animals and humans, not just in basic health, but also how animals contribute to human livelihoods. Working livestock; horses, donkeys and mules, are often overlooked by policy makers, despite their contribution to an estimated 600 million people around the world. Antonio Rota from the International Fund for Agricultural Development commented on contributions that healthy animals make to reducing poverty and hunger, and called for smallholder farmers to be put in the centre of policies.

Brooke also launched its Action for Animal Health campaign at the event.  It aims to bring together animal health organisations across the globe to develop a shared policy agenda for the sector. The campaign will demonstrate the importance of animal health systems and call on governments, policy makers and organisations to adequately train vets, ensure essential veterinary medicines and vaccines are available, support laboratories and public health institutions. It will also work with communities to improve the health and welfare of their animals. These currently overlooked areas, Brooke argues, are critical to poverty reduction, sustainable development and preventing the next pandemic.

Brooke is calling on organisations that want to work in partnership to improve animal health systems, to join this initiative. Go to www.actionforanimalhealth.org to learn more.