COVID-19, Ebola, SARS… The pandemics we had to face over the past decades consistently demonstrated that we need strong international collaboration to prevent, prepare for, and respond to health threats. These pandemics have something else in common: all of them originated in animals. For the sake of animal health, for our economies and communities that depend on animals, and for our own health as humans, the veterinary workforce has a key role to play in all endeavours against zoonoses, and pandemics in general.
Pandemic prevention, preparedness and response with a One Health approach
In 2022, WOAH actively engaged in major initiatives in the field of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. Since October 2022, international action against health threats has been reinforced. A One Health joint plan of action was launched by the Quadripartite collaboration (Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Environment Program, the World Health Organization and WOAH), to integrate systems and capacity so that we can better tackle health threats collectively. It is based on a concept that is more relevant than ever: human, animal and plant health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist.
WOAH worked with these international partners to outline a five-year plan (2022-2026) for One Health, focusing on six areas:
- capacities for health systems resilience,
- emerging and re-emerging zoonotic epidemics and pandemics,
- endemic zoonotic diseases, and neglected tropical and vector-borne diseases,
- food safety risks,
- antimicrobial resistance,
- and the environment.
Taking a closer look at these areas, one can notice the strong link between each of these challenges and animal health and welfare. While animals can be vectors of diseases and are at the heart of our food safety issues, they can also greatly contribute to human health and well-being and be victims of antimicrobial resistance. Ensuring our health starts with ensuring the health of animals.
The One Health approach draws lessons from the recent experience with COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed weaknesses and fragmented or insufficient investments in tools and systems to manage health emergencies. The One Health approach provides a framework for guidance and technical assistance to countries, international partners, as well as non-governmental organisations and academia. It promotes cooperation across countries and sectors, while it also engages communities to find solutions and develop new tools and technologies for prevention, preparedness and response to heath threats. It is also a tool for the international community to support countries strengthen their capacity to face future health threats. Global health security is a public good, requiring investment at local, regional and country levels.
Providing the financial means to accomplish our goals
Without steady financial investment, the One Health approach cannot ensure lasting impact. One of the new financial tools is the Pandemic Fund, launched in November 2022, during the G20 Conference. The fund is hosted by the World Bank, with WHO as a technical lead. It opened its first call for proposals right after the conference, and already received over US$ 1.4 billion in financial commitments. WOAH provides continuous technical support to Veterinary Services and fosters collaborative actions with their counterparts in ministries of health and environment to submit joint proposals for the Fund.
WOAH is also actively involved in the discussions pertaining to the development of a new international agreement, known as the Pandemic instrument, which is currently being negotiated and expected to be agreed upon in May 2024 by the World Health Assembly.
Now that One Health is well recognised as the way to collectively and effectively address health threats at the animal-human-environment interface, and that the governance structure and funding mechanisms are underway, it is time to move to practical actions.
WOAH reiterates its clear message: the veterinary workforce is on the front line for implementing the One Health approach to preventing zoonotic diseases, protecting human health and ensuring food security, among other goals. In 2023, WOAH will continue advocating for a better recognition of the veterinary workforce as a key actor of global health policies.
Because animal health is our health. It is everyone’s health.
Dr Monique Éloit
Director General of WOAH
Our agenda for the veterinary workforce
United Nations General Assembly High Level meeting on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response
WOAH’s 100th Anniversary
United Nations General Assembly High Level meeting on antimicrobial resistance