Some emerging or evolving infectious diseases have the potential to move quickly from local to international significance and to pass from animals to humans. The OIE has been actively engaged since its inauguration in the prevention and control of the spread of animal and zoonotic diseases.
Promoting transparency and understanding of the global animal disease situation, collecting, analysing and disseminating veterinary information, strengthening international coordination and cooperation in the control of animal diseases and zoonoses, and promoting the safety of world trade in animals and animal products remain the main missions of the OIE today.
The OIE develops standards and guidelines for use by its Member Countries to protect themselves against incursions of diseases or pathogens during trade in animals and animal products while avoiding unjustified sanitary barriers.
These standards are developed by experts from Member Countries and from the OIE’s network of 162 Reference Laboratories and Collaborating Centres. Since 1995, the standards developed by the OIE have been formally recognised by the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The main objective of these standards is to recommend measures that will ensure biosafety and biosecurity. They detail the OIE’s requirements to prevent transmission of pathogenic biological agents to animals, humans and the environment. The management of biological risks associated with animal and zoonotic diseases is also a major concern of the OIE, and all its standards are directed mainly towards these risks.
Last year the OIE Member Countries also decided to develop better guarantees on animal production food safety (prior to the slaughter of animals and the first processing of animal products).
The recent episodes of emerging and re-emerging animal and human diseases emphasised the important role of the OIE’s world-wide disease information system. The disruption to trade caused by such diseases and the resulting social, economic, food security and food safety implications in a given location have broader implications for global trade that affect all countries. For this reason, the OIE, together with the FAO, is actively engaged in improving the capacity of national Veterinary Services’ surveillance and information systems.The OIE has adopted new standards for the quality of national Veterinary Services and their disease notification systems and improved its own information system in order to provide early and accurate epidemiological information on a world-wide basis, in particular through its Early Warning System.
Many countries share a common concern about the natural occurrence or deliberate misuse of pathogenic biological agents that could affect public health, food and animal production. Existing methods of disease prevention and containment, regulations, guidelines and standards are being extended at both national and international levels to improve the ability of countries to prevent, manage and recover from natural, accidental or deliberate introduction of animal diseases. However, there are, at present, substantial differences between countries in the perception of national threat from the deliberate use of pathogenic biological agents.
The OIE, being the international reference scientific organisation for animal health issues and zoonoses, has not remained oblivious to this situation. An international conference on ‘Emergency management preparedness and response’ will be organised soon with the participation of the 164 Member Countries of the OIE. The ultimate goal is to protect and improve public and animal health conditions in all countries, including in circumstances involving deliberate introduction of diseases, while facilitating and ensuring the safety of international trade in animals and animal products.
The above tools which the OIE already has at its disposal should therefore be sufficient to deal with the new problems posed by bioterrorism, on condition that all Member Countries harmonise their legislation in accordance with existing normative provisions and provide their Veterinary Services with the necessary resources.
- OIE standards aimed at preventing the introduction of pathogens can serve as a basis for harmonising legislation;
- the guidelines on laboratory containment can be used to regulate the management of pathogens used by the laboratories;
- fulfilling OIE Member Countries’ obligations with regard to the surveillance and notification of animal diseases and zoonoses and with regard to the quality of the Veterinary Services guarantees the appropriate vigilance and rapid response at all times.
The main points to be addressed in order to reassure the biosecurity of the international community are compliance by Member Countries with OIE standards and guidelines, training where necessary for those involved, and the availability of appropriate material and human resources, notably for developing countries.