Active Search

Active search for non-official animal health information

One of the chief mandates of WOAH is to ensure the transparency of the world animal health situation. To meet this objective, WOAH collects official notifications of animal diseases from its Members, including notifications involving zoonoses (animal diseases transmissible to humans) and disseminates this information to the international community.

In 2002, to make its animal health information system more effective and obtain as exhaustive a knowledge of the world animal health situation as possible, WOAH began an active search activity for non-official information and rumours relating to animal health and public health. This information is evaluated in the context of the animal health situation prevailing in the country or region concerned and, where appropriate, verified with the Member for the purposes of official confirmation and potential publication.

To this end, Members have authorised WOAH Headquarters to contact their national Delegate directly whenever health information is reported in the media or other non-official sources that could involve an event legally requiring immediate notification to WOAH).

The active search procedure applied by WOAH is as follows:

  • Search for non-official animal health information and rumours disseminated by the media, networks such as GPHIN (Health Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network) and ProMed, scientific journals and publications, etc.; collect reports from WOAH Reference Laboratories, which have a mandate that includes informing both the WOAH Delegate of the Member concerned and WOAH Headquarters of any positive finding relating to a WOAH-listed disease;
  • Identify the discovered health event: suspected disease, clinical signs (e.g. high mortality), geographical location (region(s), country, village, etc.), animal species affected, etc.;
  • Analyse the credibility of the source;
  • Analyse the relevance of the information, placing it both in the health context of the country and with respect to Members’ legal obligations to notify WOAH;
  • Determine whether the information relates to an exceptional event requiring immediate action, which, in the case of official confirmation, will lead to an immediate notification. If, on the other hand, the information relates to a disease that is already present or to human cases of a zoonotic disease, retain the information so as to be able to verify the exhaustiveness of six-monthly or annual reports as soon as they are received;
  • Based on the outcome of the previous analysis, contact the national Delegate of the Member concerned to inform him or her of the identified event and its relevance. If the event is confirmed but has not yet been notified, request the Member to officially notify it to WOAH.

The information does not become official until it has been confirmed by the Delegate. Indeed, WOAH considers that the procedure for validating the information with the national Veterinary Authorities to be indispensable in order to obtain official confirmation via standard report forms and is a precondition for it to be officially disseminated.

Active Search and Verification Procedure

Invalidation of rumours and non-official information about an event or a final diagnosis that differs from the one originally suspected can provide value-added knowledge and help to improve risk analysis.

Increase in the number of disease alerts published

Following the launch of this active search activity for rumours and non-official information in January 2002, the number of immediate notifications published increased, thereby fulfilling the primary objective in setting up this activity, namely helping to improve WOAH Early Warning System. Thereafter, the number of enquiries sent to countries gradually stabilised before decreasing slightly. This attests to both a better understanding of the reasons for notifying exceptional events and a greater transparency on the part of the countries concerned. It can also be linked to a decline in the number of notifications of avian influenza in the world and a worldwide sanitary situation that is globally more stable in animals than it was during the peak of the avian influenza crisis.

Graph 1 below illustrates the results of this activity, as shown at the beginning by the increase in the number of official notifications, thereby helping to increase the transparency and knowledge of exceptional epidemiological events occurring throughout the world, and consequently our knowledge of the world animal health situation. Moreover it shows that the number of official notifications following a verification from WOAH has decreased in comparison with the number of immediate notifications received, thus indicating a better notification of exceptional events from the countries themselves.

Graph 1 – Number of disease alerts published.
Growth of active search and verification activities

Active search activities have not been restricted to exceptional events but have also taken into account information from WOAH-listed diseases or zoonosis in humans, these latters being verified upon receipt of the relevant six-monthly or annual report. In 2008, this diversification of active search activity increased a lot compared to previous years. 

Graph 2 below displays the global growth of non-official information active search activities since 2002 and its diversification in 2008 towards the verification of notification of health information related to WOAH-listed diseases that have to be notified in the six-monthly reports and zoonosis in humans that have to be reported in annual reports.

Graph 2 – Distribution of active search and verification activities since 2002.

Joint FAO-WOAH-WHO initiative: Global Early Warning System (GLEWS)

To strengthen existing early warning systems, WOAH is working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop the Global Early Warning and Response System (GLEWS). Its primary objective is to share health information, and especially that derived from disease tracking. Information on 25 priority diseases (19 zoonoses and 6 strictly animal diseases) is disseminated within the GLEWS network comprising these three organisations which combine their respective active search mechanisms and verification networks, in line with their mandates, for the information thus indentified and share the results of verification.

This collaboration between the three international organisations within the framework of GLEWS has lead to the use of a joint platform for sharing non-official information and the results of verification, and analytical tools to predict the appearance and spread of diseases, and, where appropriate to a coordinated response by each of the three organisations in the event of health emergencies.

For more information, please contact the World Animal Health Information and Analysis Department via WAHIS Support.