ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 75% of the new diseases that have affected humans over the past 10 years have been caused by pathogens originating from an animal or from products of animal origin. Many of these diseases have the potential to spread through various means over long distances and to become global problems.
In addition a number of well-known and preventable animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans such as rabies, brucellosis, leishmaniasis and echinococcosis continue to occur in many countries, especially in the developing world where they mostly affect the poorest segment of the human population. They cause a serious number of deaths and millions of affected people every year.
All major zoonotic diseases prevent the efficient production of food of animal origin, particularly of much-needed proteins, and create obstacles to international trade in animals and animal products. They are thus an impediment to overall socio-economic development.
Veterinary public health (VPH) is an essential part of public health and includes various types of co-operation between the disciplines that link the health triad, people-animalsenvironment, and all of its interactions.
The role of WHO
VPH activities contribute to WHO’s global efforts to strengthen the surveillance of and response to all communicable diseases which are or may emerge as public health threats. In collaboration with its regional offices, WHO supports countries in the surveillance and containment in humans and animals of zoonoses and food-borne zoonotic diseases of public health importance, and animal diseases with known or potential public health implications; and in the surveillance and containment of resistance to antimicrobial agents in animals, with implications for human medicine.
VPH activities are currently implemented by WHO headquarters through the Department of Communicable Diseases Control, Prevention and Eradication (CPE) in close collaboration with the Food Safety programme.
The VPH programme in WHO has been closely linked with various aspects of the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in relation to zoonoses, food safety, and the public health aspects of trade in animals and animal products. There is also much collaboration with WHO collaborating centres, other universities, research centres and institutions in:
■ identifying and evaluating microbiological hazards to human health of animal origin: new, emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases, and food-borne diseases, including those due to antimicrobial resistant bacteria;
■ developing policies, guidelines, operational research and strategies for the control of zoonotic and foodborne diseases;
■ promoting research on zoonotic and food-borne diseases and their management in humans;
■ strengthening global surveillance of zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance in food-borne pathogens by enhancing the epidemiological capabilities of national laboratories;
■ disseminating relevant information to experts in public health, veterinary science and other scientific disciplines, as well as to consumer groups and the public;
■ contributing to field and laboratory investigations of zoonotic and foodborne diseases;
■ facilitating active contributions to public health by the veterinary services of member states, an essential requirement for the cost-effective surveillance and control of zoonotic and food-borne diseases in their animal hosts;
■ providing technical and scientific assistance to member states for their surveillance and control programmes, when requested;
■ supervising the work of the Mediterranean Zoonoses Control Programme (MZCP).