Article, 100th Anniversary

From telegrams to data visualisation: a century of animal health information

Animal health information_Two veterinarians wearing a face mask analysing an animal health situation
When a seabird is found dead with avian influenza in the Antarctic, animal health professionals around the world receive the confirmed and cross-checked information in a timely manner. Access to such information combined with relevant scientific data and policy recommendations may seem natural today, but it is the result of a century of evolutions.

On 13 March 2024, WOAH informed the world that “high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) [had] reached an unprecedented milestone, with the discovery of a dead South Polar skua on an Argentinian Antarctic base. Samples of the dead animal were sent for analysis on a neighbouring base, where it was demonstrated that the seabird had died from HPAI. An immediate notification was published on the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS), with recommendations for joint action.

This new information was added to the database, mapped and time-referenced with other recent animal health events, providing professionals and relevant stakeholders with a global view of the most updated cases of African swine fever, SARS-CoV-2 or rabies, among other animal diseases, around the world.  

Sharing animal health information: the core of WOAH’s mission

“Without transparency and sharing of data and relevant information on the animal health situation, we would not be able to effectively prevent and fight existing animal diseases, not to mention the emerging threats,” states Jacob Jensen, the Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark.

Data collection and publication were at the heart of WOAH’s original mandate since it was created, in 1924, in response to a rinderpest outbreak in Europe. By establishing the OIE, the 28 founding countries committed to notify the Organisation “of the suspicion or confirmation of an outbreak of a disease, an infection/infestation or other epidemiological event”, so that all the Members’ veterinary authorities could be warned in turn. At the time, notifications happened through the fastest means of communication available: telegrams.  

One hundred years on, the system has evolved and is still as relevant as ever.

Disease reporting and the timely exchange of information are vital as climate change and the increasing pressure on natural resources pose significant challenges that may contribute to the emergence of new diseases.

Mahmoud Elies Hamza, the Minister of Agriculture of Tunisia.
Animal health information_A shepherd and sheep in the mountains_Iran Veterinary Organization.
A shepherd and sheep in the mountains. With its 13 regional representations and online digital platforms, WOAH works to enhance access to animal health information in remote areas. 
Photo: © Iran Veterinary Organization

Tracking data and rumours

Through the years, data collection and dissemination progressed along with the available technology. The first digital database, Handistatus, was made available in 1996, and the central server for WAHIS was created in 2005. At the time, the platform already included an early warning system associating alert messages on new cases of disease worldwide to a monitoring system with follow-up and thematic reports on all topics, including Veterinary Services, vaccine production, animal population and human cases of zoonoses.  

By 2016, WAHIS was providing spatial and temporal information on diseases, details on diagnostic tests and laboratories performing them, quantitative data on infected animals and qualitative data on control measures and status of diseases. “The data verification process is a critical control point for our Organisation, comprising consistency checks with historical observations, regional and global context, as well as unofficial information that is circulating.” said Dr Montserrat Arroyo, WOAH’s Deputy Director General on International Standards and Science.

Timely information ensures safe trade

By receiving animal health information from countries and territories and sharing it in a timely manner, WOAH supports safe trade between countries.

Faced with the presence of African swine fever (ASF) outbreaks in Americas, Mexico has taken full advantage of WAHIS:

This international surveillance has allowed us to keep our risk analysis for the introduction of ASF up-to-date, to detect possible routes of introduction and to establish new barriers to maintain safe trade.

Dr Juan Gay Gutiérrez, Director General on Animal Health and WOAH Delegate for Mexico.

 For New Zealand Minister for Biosecurity, Hon Andrew Hoggard, “the accurate and transparent dissemination of information on animal disease occurrence is fundamental for importing countries to confidently trade with New Zealand.”  

Not only does it help maintain safe trade, countries that regularly report to WAHIS could obtain new trade opportunities thanks to the transparency that comes with a functional information system: “Our good reporting history in WAHIS is one tangible way to demonstrate we have a robust national animal biosecurity system and that we are transparent in our disease status, which aids in building trust with our trading partners,” notes Hon Andrew Hoggard. 


countries have reported outbreaks of 46 different animal diseases in 2023 



alert notifications have been disseminated since the launch of WAHIS in 2005 

Making open access to animal health information a reality 

The WAHIS in 2017 contained a wealth of reliable information. It was time to face a new challenge: making data access easier for all users. After four years of development and testing, a renovated system was launched in 2021. The new system is quicker and more intuitive, providing the ability to mine and download data, and visualise temporal and spatial data. The information is available to complement other organisations’ as well as national and regional databases of interest, allowing for enhanced decision-making worldwide.  

As it has been for 100 years, the animal health data collected by WOAH is free and available to everyone: government agencies, industries, researchers, academics, journalists–in line with the Organisation’s founding principle, that reliable, timely, accessible information is crucial for efficient global action on animal health, and public health.  

Resources to control priority animal diseases 

To help countries face animal health challenges such as rabies, tuberculosis or foot and mouth disease, among others, WOAH does not only provide its Members with access to verified data; knowledge acquired on diseases is used to draft specific strategies jointly with key partners. These frameworks outline practical recommendations to guide countries in the prevention and control of priority animal diseases.  

In addition, WOAH enhances access to high-quality vaccines through its banks, which have been set up for rabies, peste des petits ruminants and foot and mouth disease in recent years. As of April 2023, over 125 million doses of vaccines had been delivered for these diseases. 

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