Preserving our future by protecting wildlife health

Today more than ever, the international health community recognises the importance of maintaining a global perspective and foresight on wildlife health and biodiversity and their inextricable connection with veterinary and human public health. 

Dr William B. Karesh, Chair of the OIE Working Group on Wildlife, highlights the main activities carried out by the Working Group over the last year.

Paris, 22 June 2020 – Anthropogenic impact on the environment alters the delicate balance of ecosystems and their health. The recent spillover events, such as SARS and Ebola, have been associated with poorly regulated or managed wildlife trade and the lack of awareness of risks associated to human contact with potential reservoirs or intermediate hosts. Therefore, the suggestion that COVID-19 originated in wildlife highlights the importance of addressing health risks at the human-animal-ecosystem interface, as well as the need for integrated surveillance systems, all while preserving animal welfare and biodiversity.

Whether in the wild or in captivity, the health of wildlife represents a key component of global health. The OIE Working Group on Wildlife, formed in 1994, informs and advises the OIE on this matter. An overview of the main activities carried out by the group over last year is presented.

Improving wildlife disease surveillance

Wildlife disease surveillance allows early detection of potentially impactful animal and human health threats and implementation of appropriate control measures. This can only be achieved by timely reporting the occurrence of wild and domestic animal diseases. The OIE Working Group on Wildlife regularly encourages countries to notify wildlife diseases through the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) – Wild platform.

Reporting of OIE-listed diseases in wildlife had been consistent over the years. However, since 2012, non OIE-listed diseases have observed a downward trend in notifications. Considering the potential threat to animal and/or human health that these diseases may represent, the Working Group has recently revised the criteria for voluntary reporting of non OIE-listed diseases. This aims to facilitate reporting activities and ultimately contributes to document and generate knowledge on new infectious and non-infectious agents in wildlife. In addition, over 20 technical disease cards were prepared by the Group. These aim to provide clear and detailed information on these diseases, thus facilitating its reporting to the OIE by its Members.

Supporting OIE disease control strategies

Animal diseases continue to spread around the world. Some of them represent a burden for the global economy and even threaten to disrupt food supply chains. The OIE works towards the control of these devastating animal diseases and has put in place global control strategies. While most of the impact occurs in domestic populations, the OIE recognises the importance of the wildlife-livestock interface within these strategies, not only to ensure an effective implementation, but also in the context of safeguarding wildlife.

In the past year, the Working Group on Wildlife has helped strengthening control strategies targeting some of the most impactful diseases like Peste des petits ruminants, African swine fever or Rabies by issuing recommendations on wildlife susceptibility and disease control, which allow for reinforced and coordinated actions.

A collaborative approach to address health threats

The current COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration to face its devastating impacts and to prevent similar events in the future. The OIE recognises the value of leveraging synergic partnerships to achieve common goals.

In this line, the OIE Working Group on Wildlife implements its activities in coordination with international organisations working on wildlife or biodiversity that are OIE partners. To strengthen this collaborative approach, future partnerships have been explored by the Working Group. They will aim to better coordinate the work at the human-animal-ecosystem interface. They will notably focus on the role of wildlife and biodiversity conservation and how it relates to health matters.

A way forward

Today more than ever, the international health community recognises the importance of maintaining a global perspective and foresight on the wildlife health and biodiversity and the interaction between wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. The Working Group on Wildlife will continue to provide science-based and technical support to the OIE and its Members and to sustain ongoing activities that aim at mitigating risks of circulating diseases and future spill-over events at the human-animal-ecosystem interface.

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