FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva last week at the Global Health Security Agenda event held at the White House in Washington, D.C., said there is a need for better controls on animal health to help curb the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases dangerous to humans.
The FAO chief joined leaders of the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, and representatives from more than 40 countries at the event.
The U.S. government-initiated GHSA is an international partnership to strengthen health systems with the objective to prevent, detect and respond to emerging disease threats.
It is estimated that 70% of new infectious diseases that have emerged in humans over recent decades have animal origin, mostly from wildlife, FAO said.
Graziano da Silva underlined that "controlling zoonotic diseases and emerging threats at the human, animal and ecosystems interface needs an integrated and multidisciplinary approach that brings different sectors to work closely together to attain the health of people, animals and the environment."
By focusing on prevention, countries can minimize loss of human life when diseases cross over from animal to human populations and thus become harder to manage, as shown by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Graziano da Silva said.
He expressed "great concern" over the possible impact of this epidemic on "food security and livelihoods of affected communities, with a potential to cause long-term food insecurity in West Africa, as a result of prolonged disruption of crop harvesting and subsequent planting."
Other recent emerging diseases of animal origin that affect humans include H5N1 avian influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome, he said.
"There is a need to set up global preparedness, surveillance and response programs," Graziano da Silva said. He welcomed the GHSA's focus on prevention, detection and response, and noted how FAO shared this approach.
Graziano da Silva reiterated FAO's commitment, alongside WHO and OIE, to further support countries in tackling threats to health from animal sources. FAO works with country and regional partners to assist them to develop preparedness and contingency plans for animal health-related events, and these capacities serve both public health and food security aims.
FAO also contributes to health protection on the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Learn more on the Global Health Security Agenda website.