Recent spread of the avian influenza H5N8 underscores a need to step up global surveillance of animal health diseases, the Organization for Animal Health said.
Despite the expanding global movement of animals and products, recent discovery of virus H5N8 in Europe "serves as a reminder to the international community that a simple natural phenomenon such as migratory movements of wild birds can also cause the worldwide dissemination of a disease," OIE said.
While the H5N8 strain has not been linked to any cases in humans, OIE said it's important to remain on the alert given the capacity of influenza viruses to mutate.
"With 75% of human emerging diseases being derived from pathogens transmitted by animals, whether domestic or wild, public health protection is inextricably linked to the preservation of animal health."
OIE said recent disease outbreaks are a reminder that poor management of disease control at source in animals, irrespective of whether diseases are potentially transmissible to humans, can have consequences that can be severe.
Over the last 20 years, avian influenza H5N1 and H7N9, foot and mouth disease and mad cow disease, and now Ebola, show that the costs of combating such diseases at the animal source may fall on states or countries, but "the amount is derisory compared to the costs involved in dealing with a panzootic or a pandemic," says Dr. Bernard Vallat, OIE director general.
Well-organized veterinary services, regardless of a country's level of development, is required to monitor and respond to disease outbreaks, OIE said.
This is why the OIE said it provides its 180 Member Countries with the necessary foundations for strengthening the governance of their animal health systems backed up by adequate human and financial resources, which also implies the existence of suitable legislation coupled with high level veterinary training.
In parallel, it is important to ensure extensive, optimal surveillance for animal diseases in wildlife as in domestic animals, OIE said.
"Animal producers, hunters, anglers and other users of the natural environment are also key players with whom it is important to cooperate, and additional resources are also needed everywhere for the active search for pathogens in wild animals, including aquatic birds," Vallat said.
At an international level, tools have been developed during the past 10 years aimed at preventing panzootics and pandemics at their source in animals.
The OIE PVS Pathway, a global program to improve the performance of national Veterinary Services, the International Health Regulations developed by WHO and the OIE's World Animal Health Information System, WAHIS, are examples.
"It is worth disseminating them and giving priority to ensure that they benefit developing countries, where the explosion of demand for animal protein will bring a profound change in livestock production in favor of more intensive systems, which will require stricter veterinary control. And we must do this quickly, as the pathogens will not wait," Vallat said.