A gateway to resilience: integrating animal health in emergency management

In today’s fast-moving world, animal health emergencies are highly uncertain and unpredictable. The wide-ranging consequences of infectious animal diseases can be aggravated by various disasters and affect thousands of livelihoods. This highlights the importance for the animal health sector to have effective preparedness measures up its sleeve. The need for action has become urgent, with the frequency, complexity and size of emergencies expected to grow. Numerous factors, such as climate change, contribute to this escalation, adding to an already complex landscape that calls for stronger and better-coordinated efforts. 

Veterinary Services and Aquatic Animal Health Services play a critical role in the prevention of, response to and recovery from international and national emergencies that affect animal health, animal welfare and veterinary public health. However, this is not a task they can accomplish alone. Animal health professionals need to operate side-by-side with allies across sectors –public health, the security sector and emergency services. This works best when they are coordinated through a cross-government National Emergency Management System. 

To create such a system and ensure that all relevant actors are involved, the World Organisation for Animal Health advocates for an all-hazards and whole-of-society approach to emergency management preparedness, planning and capacity development.  

The 2022 Technical Item, presented at this year’s General Session, highlights this need. In the face of current and future challenges, it is key to have a comprehensive emergency preparedness framework that takes the full scope of emergencies and disasters into account. 

A whole-of-society approach means forging synergies between an array of government bodies and civil society organisations, including those focused on maintaining essential services and providing humanitarian support. This multisectoral collaboration is needed at all levels, and the international response to the Covid-19 pandemic has further cemented the understanding of the One Health approach as a stepping stone to global health resilience.  

The challenges of the coming years are particularly hard to predict. Without an efficient space for professional dialogue and interagency cooperation, the animal health sector may find itself in unchartered territory. The World Organisation for Animal Health and its networks contribute to strategic operational systems for prevention, readiness and recovery from international emergencies, including pandemics, grounded in the One Health approach. This vision translates into the commitment to better include Veterinary and Aquatic Animal Health Services in the global crisis management responses.  

We need to have far-sighted strategies in place to address short-term emergencies and reduce their enduring impacts. Preparedness builds up a society’s ability to protect itself against future hazards: the more resilient a society is, the greater the chances for individuals and species to thrive in the environment they inhabit. 

Veterinary and Aquatic Animal Health Services must be highly engaged in emergency management systems to help Members be on the right track as they address animal health emergencies. In doing so, they should also embrace a forward-thinking way of tackling diseases and other hazards. Together, it is possible to imagine a safer, better-prepared world – and work towards achieving it.