By Pauline Achieng’ Tom | @Pauline_tom
Anew international expert panel has been formed by international organizations to address the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases. The expert panel will advise The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE); the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals while Executive Director United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Inger Andersen says that 60 per cent of known infectious diseases in humans and 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) late last year launched a one health research education Centre (OHRECA) in Nairobi, Kenya to enhance the health of humans, animals and the environment in Africa. Dr Lian Thomas, Lecturer Veterinary Public Health, University of Liverpool, ILRI research scientist whose main area of interest are zoonotic disease epidemiology and control stressed the need for surveillance saying, “Disease trends have changed and there is a rise of burden of Noncommunicable Diseases, investment in zoonosis surveillances is only as good as its weakest link and therefore animal health should be paramount.”
Zoonotic diseases have increasingly become great health risks due to their increased frequency and impact, the new One Health High-Level Expert panel is going to be centred on boosting the understanding of the emergence and spread of these diseases and the development of a long term global plan to prevent an outbreak. According to Jimmy Smith, Director General at International Livestock Research Institute(ILRI), more needs to be done.
“To date, most efforts to control zoonotic diseases have been reactive Srather than proactive. COVID-19 has made us all aware that it’s time to change that. To prevent future outbreaks of novel zoonotic diseases, we need to address the root causes of their emergence. We need among other things to break down disciplinary and organizational silos, to invest in public health programs, to farm sustainably, to end the overexploitation of wildlife, to restore land and ecosystem health and to reduce climate change,” he said.
Zoonotic diseases, including rabies, H5N1 avian influenza, Ebola, and Rift Valley fever, zika, MERS and COVID-19 pose a greater risk than ever before due to the increased human degradation of the environment with an increased demand for animal meat by 260 per cent which has prompted industrialized scale meat production which reciprocally increases the risk of contracting and spreading zoonoses.
According to a UNEP report titled, “preventing the next pandemic” published in 2020, pathogens tend to maneuver from host to host and around 80 per cent of them are multi-host meaning that they move among different animal hosts, including occasionally humans thus acting as bridges for the emergence of human disease through physical transmission.
Domestic animals could serve as physical transmitters. “While wildlife may be a source of human disease, domesticated animal sources may act as amplifiers of pathogens emerging from the wild. Moreover, as noted in this report, most emerging infectious diseases—whether in wildlife, domestic animals, plants or people are driven by human activities such as agricultural intensification, wildlife use and misuse, and human-induced landscape changes, interacting in unpredictable ways that can have negative outcomes,” the report read in part.
The “One Health” Expert panel was borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic and was proposed by Germany and France at the Paris peace forum last year.