Anniversary Reflections

Anniversary reflections

A century of improving

animal health and welfare

Ever since humans inhabited the earth, animals have been an integral part of our lives and sustainability.

Whether they assist in work, provide a source of food and livelihoods, or simply as our companions, their existence, health and well-being are intertwined with our own. Because we share a special bond with animals, it is our responsibility to care for their health and welfare.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) was created 100 years ago for this very purpose.

From setting standards to amplifying the voice of the
veterinary workforce in the global health agenda, let us reflect on our journey: a century of improving animal health and welfare.

© WOAH/Binayok Sharma

Dr Monique Éloit

WOAH Director General

100 years of championing animal health and welfare

‘Back in 1924, nations recognised the importance of uniting behind a shared mission: to stop the spread of diseases such as rinderpest. A century later, in 2024, the same level of collaboration and solidarity is essential to tackle the challenges of today. Whether it’s responding to extreme weather events, addressing the threat of antimicrobial resistance, or preparing for pandemics, these challenges demand a collective and multi-sectoral approach. As WOAH embarks on its second century, we are dedicated as ever to the global efforts for One Health, using our commitment to animal health and welfare as a foundation for creating a more sustainable future.’

Our Journey

Controlling the spread of animal diseases

1920. Trade zebus from India passed through Belgium on their way to Brazil, and sparked an unexpected outbreak of rinderpest, the deadliest cattle disease in history. To discuss the dynamics and far-reaching impacts of this outbreak, France hosted an international conference in 1921 which led to the creation of the Office international des epizooties (OIE, currently WOAH) three years later.

© WOAH/Khai Jeng Tan

2011. Rinderpest was declared eradicated from the world. The disease had existed at least since the 4th century, with a mortality rate reaching 100% in vulnerable herds. The devastating consequences of this disease on animal lives and human livelihoods over the centuries are unnumerable. Following global, coordinated efforts, rinderpest is today the only disease to have been eradicated, alongside smallpox in humans.

© WOAH/University Agricultural

Together with other stakeholders, WOAH is working to replicate this success for other important transboundary animal diseases that continue to spread around the world, impacting economies and livelihoods. Because diseases know no borders, sharing information about outbreaks between countries as early as possible can also make a huge difference in the control of a disease. To ensure that animal health information can be accessible in a timely manner, one of WOAH’s core historical mission is the publication of health information notified by countries. To this end, WOAH created a data system which has evolved over time, from telegrams to the online platform known today as the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS). Since its launch in 2005, WAHIS has disseminated nearly 5,000 notifications helping countries promptly identify animal and human health threats, while implementing opportune control measures.

© Animal pensant

To support disease control and possibly eradication while improving animal health and welfare, another one of WOAH’s core historical missions is the setting of international standards to ensure a safe trade of animals and animal products. By adopting a common set of standards for the first time in 1968 and updating them regularly to account for progresses made in science and technology, countries started to build the foundations for a global governance of animal health.

© WOAH/Francisca Costa Freitas Martins

Evolving the animal health agenda

The animal realm is not limited to production and terrestrial animals. Aquatic animals and wildlife also play a critical role in sustaining human livelihoods and a healthy environment. 800 million people depend on small-scale fisheries and aquaculture to live. Wildlife is essential to maintain balanced ecosystems, and biodiversity loss can set ripple effects through the environment, impacting other spheres such as human health.

In the late 1960s, WOAH began expanding its activities to include aquatic animals, and continues to make important strides in the introduction of wildlife to this day. By bringing together governments, industry and experts, the Organisation develops global strategies focused on transversal thematics like these ones.

© WOAH/ Chad Ryan Mallari

animal health anniversary - a veterinarian taking care of animals

A global strategy has also been developed to enhance animal welfare worldwide, recognising the mutual benefits between animal health and welfare. When animals are treated well, they are more productive and less susceptible to disease. The consideration of animal welfare is an integral part for building sustainable food production systems. Following countries’ request, animal welfare was incorporated into WOAH’s mandate in the early 2000s. Because standards alone are not enough to advance this topic, the Organisation is working to build understanding that policies favouring animal welfare are a global asset, for animal and human health, the economy and the environment.


Supporting the humans behind animal health

Animal health relies on a system upheld by humans. Whether they are veterinarians, veterinary paraprofessionals, community animal health workers, researchers, data analysts, lab workers or members of veterinary authorities, all of them play a critical role in the global health system. Yet, their contribution to maintaining animal and human health, food safety and security, and balanced ecosystems, remains underrated.

As a result, the veterinary workforce faces challenges in terms of skills and resources. To address them, WOAH developed evaluation, capacity-building and partnership programmes in the 2000s which are still going strong today.

© Jesse Bonwitt

WOAH also acknowledges that gender equality contributes to a better veterinary workforce. It brings diverse perspectives and talents to the field, enabling better access to veterinary services for all. Yet, studies suggest that there is still a long way to go to enable women’s empowerment in the animal health sector. To better understand how gender impacts the work of the Organisation, a gender task force was established in 2021. This task force has already conducted studies to assess Veterinary Services from a gender perspective.

© WOAH/Fatemeh Jalal

Responding to critical global challenges

In our interconnected world, diseases that arise in one part of the globe can quickly spread and cause pandemics such as COVID-19. Humans, animals and ecosystems are intertwined in a way that whatever affects one, affects the rest. To respond to critical global challenges such as zoonotic diseases, the depletion of natural resources or food safety, working together across different fields is our only chance.

For this reason, WOAH has become the voice of animal health and the veterinary workforce in global One Health discussions, working in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Altogether, these organisations form the Quadripartite.

© WOAH/Sophie Muset

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is another example of a One Health challenge that needs to be addressed in a cross-sectoral, coordinated way. It threatens the efficacy of antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics. The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming marked the beginning of modern medicine in 1928, and paved the way to better living conditions for humans and animals. But today the unchecked spread of AMR could leave humanity once more defenseless in the face of infections and diseases. WOAH has been developing an international response to AMR with its partners and members.

© WOAH/Davgadorj Yadamsuran

WOAH today




Reference centers


Regional and Sub-Regional representations



Partner organisations

Looking forward: animal health and welfare tomorrow

WOAH/ Toraj Damavandi

After a century, what lies ahead? Artificial intelligence, climate change, pollution,
ecosystem unbalance, biothreats… Today’s rising trends may be tomorrow’s reality, with consequences on food production systems, trade, and global health.
To preserve animal health and welfare in the long term, WOAH prepares for the future today. In July 2023, the Organisation launched a participatory foresight project as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations. The goal: to leverage foresight and futures literacy methodologies for strategic thinking about the future.