Article, 100th Anniversary, Op-ed

100 years of championing animal health and welfare

animal health-catlle ruminating on grass
One hundred years ago, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) was created in response to the risks of transboundary animal diseases. Since then, we have been evolving based on changes in societies and our Members’ needs. The Organisation has taken a pivotal role in promoting and improving animal health and welfare as well as giving the veterinary workforce a voice in high-level discussions.
Monique Eloit at the WOAH headquarters
Dr Monique Éloit, Director General

Editorial piece by Dr Monique Éloit, Director General, WOAH

In 1924, recognising the threat of animal diseases spreading through trade, the World Organisation for Animal Health was founded. A century on, we have significantly evolved the global animal health agenda, standing by the veterinary workforce worldwide.  

WOAH is now a significant and influential player in high-level meetings and forums alongside peers in the sectors of human health, food and agriculture, as well as the environment. As we look into the future, our focus will remain on three key objectives: ensuring that Veterinary Services are duly acknowledged for their critical role, advocating for sustainable practices, and championing animal health and welfare for a safer world. 

100 years of caring for the human-animal relationship 

human-animal relationship_vet doctor examining a gorilla in Rwanda
A doctor specialised in gorillas from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project frees the orphaned infant ‘Djingala’ from the box where she was held captive by poachers. Preserving endangered wildlife is vital for all. Photo: © EC-WOAH

Understanding the importance of animal health is crucial for humans because our societies are deeply intertwined with the existence of animals. It’s our duty to assume our role in ensuring their health and welfare; it’s not just an option but a fundamental obligation. The bond between people and animals has always existed, originating in a historic working and sustenance relationship. Today, animals are integral to human life in numerous ways, from farming of domesticated animals to keeping ecosystems in balance to sustain wildlife. A staggering 2.6 billion people rely on livestock, small-scale fishing, and aquaculture for their livelihoods and income. More recently, the positive impact of pets on our emotional and physical well-being has also been recognised. The breadth of our relationship with animals is vast and ever-growing. 

As an organisation, WOAH has evolved significantly, now encompassing many facets of the human-animal relationship, expanding its initial focus on trade-related issues. Alongside our partners, we are addressing today’s global challenges, including the rise of antimicrobial resistance, the impacts of climate change, and the protection of wildlife health. 

100 years of benefitting communities 

A veterinarian assists a cow birthing her calf
A veterinarian assists a cow birthing her calf. Veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals play an essential role in helping farms run smoothly.  Photo: © EC-WOAH

Every time actions are taken to preserve animal health, societies observe countless positive ripple effects. In a context where 60% of infectious diseases that affect people are of animal origin, preserving animal health is critical in safeguarding human health. Keeping animals healthy is crucial for guaranteeing access to safe food supplies, such as fish, meat, milk, and eggs, which in turn decreases poverty and hunger. With women making up 50 to 70% of the workforce in livestock and aquatic sector, better animal health contributes to gender equality by providing them with dependable income and better working conditions.  

Improving animal welfare improves animal health. Over time, WOAH has intensified its efforts to support animal welfare. By providing countries with detailed guidelines, we encourage farmers to adopt safer and more responsible practices. We support a worldwide transition to farming methods that are more environmentally friendly, aligning with multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Enhanced animal welfare means healthier animals, which translates to higher productivity. Moreover, it helps cut down on greenhouse gases and farming-related pollution. Agriculture contributes 10-12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with meat, poultry, and dairy production responsible for 75% of this amount. Recognising the significant role animal farming plays in emitting greenhouse gases and working towards reducing them through sustainable methods is vital for addressing climate change—one of humanity’s most significant challenges. 

100 years of championing animal health and welfare in global discussions 

human-animal relationship - a veterinarian taking care of animals
A veterinarian visits a village to offer his services. WOAH advocates for better recognition of the value of the veterinary workforce in global discussions. Photo: © EC-WOAH

When WOAH was created 100 years ago, its aim was to help mitigate the spread of diseases across borders, especially through trade. A rinderpest outbreak in Belgium sparked international concern, leading to the setting up of an information and reporting system for animal diseases.  

Globally, WOAH has been recognised early on as the leading standard-setting organisation for animal health and zoonoses by the World Trade Organization (WTO). From this point onwards, we have progressively gained influence as the advocacy voice of the veterinary workforce on critical global challenges. Through a One Health approach and our collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) within the Quadripartite partnership, we have consistently represented the animal health perspective on the international stage. At the G20, the United Nations General Assembly, the Paris Peace Forum or the G7, we have shown our commitment to playing a role in resolving multifaceted issues of our times. 

Tomorrow: responding to global challenges together

School children stand beside a donkey in the fog.
School children stand beside a donkey in the fog. Animals are often the silent victims of the global challenges that affect humans, from extreme weather events to economic crises. Photo: © EC-WOAH

Moving forward, we will continue to adapt, just as we have over the last century, by staying attuned to the evolving needs of our Members and societies, and by providing the most appropriate responses. 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. 

Because animal health is our health.
It’s everyone’s health.  

Dr Monique Éloit
Director General of WOAH.

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