Sharing scientific knowledge, encouraging open communication, and supporting the sustainability of veterinary services throughout the world are key aspects of the new strategic objectives of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). These are all particularly important in the emerging context of animal health that’s dependent on human health and environmental health, and vice-versa, OIE officials said.

The organization’s new Director General Monique Eloit, DVM, and the Deputy Director General Brian Evans, DVM, unveiled the details of this “Sixth Strategic Plan” Jan. 13 at the OIE headquarters in Paris, France. The plan applies to the next five years, through 2020.

“Through a reinforced relationship with our scientific partners, we aim to open up towards new horizons, not only in advanced technology, but also in other sciences which aren’t necessarily veterinary science, which will permit us to address more comprehensively the complexity of global challenges,” said Eloit. These “global challenges,” such as global warming, extremes of weather conditions, loss of biodiversity, and the continued evolution of human health consequences have direct effects on animal health, she said.

Their initiative aims to improve animal health and welfare worldwide while contributing to the reduction of disease transmission that can occur naturally via vectors, accidently through trade and transport, or deliberately. They also intend to take advantage of the latest advances in diagnostic and information technology to help reduce the spread of disease.

Specifically, efforts will be stepped up to prepare for increased risks of disease as the climate changes, Eloit said. With the evolving global climate, vectors (insects and other organisms that can transmit diseases to their hosts) can move into regions that were previously unsuitable to them.

Ticks, mosquitos, and midges migrating north from South America and Africa could infect horses with illnesses such as African Horse Sickness, West Nile, piroplasmosis, and several varieties of encephalitis, for example. In the southernmost parts of Europe and parts of North America, the risk of West Nile disease has already become a reality.

As such, the OIE is now partnering with organizations dealing with climate change, she said. But not only climate change—also organizations dealing with biodiversity, as ongoing animal health is now clearly linked to a healthy level of biodiversity in all living species. Partnerships with human medicine research organizations are also critical, she added, as animals share many diseases and health challenges with humans, calling for a united effort. In all, the OIE has 71 official partnership agreements which also include such subjects as meteorology, biodiversity, environmental science, and international customs.

“These all contribute pieces to a puzzle leading to one united health for everyone,” Eloit said.

The same diseases can also be transmitted via international transportation—whether of other horses or of other animals, including exotic pets. To combat transport-related disease spread, and to improve animal health and welfare in developing countries, OIE officials are focusing on supporting the capacity building of national veterinary services and improving veterinary education and post-graduate training. Developing partnership programs with veterinary schools, laboratories, and veterinary statutory bodies in developed and developing countries will allow for better information sharing so that all member nations can benefit from the latest veterinary research and best practices. Further, OIE solidarity programs could also help to increase the number of veterinarians in countries where there is a significant lack of such professionals—in some cases only one or two veterinarians on a national level, Eloit said.

More timely detection and notification of diseases will also contribute to containing diseases, Evans said. Immediate online access to countries’ diseases notification via a downloadable mobile application will provide the users with timely and precise information about global animal health situation.

“When we’re dealing with disease situations, timeliness is of essence,” he said.

Eliot added, “And we don’t stop there. We go one step further, investigating the ‘rumors’ of disease that we hear about through both formal and informal sources from a variety of sources.”

But while stopping international disease spread is critical, the OIE is nonetheless motivated to establish a safe and efficient way to transport high-level sport horses across the globe for international competitions, Evans said. Working jointly with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) and the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), the OIE is supporting the development of a program that would allow a specific subset of elite sport horses to travel country to country for temporary stay for competition purposes without the constraints of standard quarantines and testing. These constraints, while important for preventing disease spread among most horses under less regulated oversight, should not apply to high-performance sport horses which already benefit from close veterinary scrutiny and ongoing biosecurity measures, he said.

The OIE is also supporting an international harmonization of validated testing methods through laboratory proficiency panel exchanges for imported and exported horses, he added.

Equine health research projects are also a priority for the OIE, Evans said. As part of their partnership with the FEI and the IFHA, the OIE is supporting six scientific studies; two studies address equine influenza (diagnosis and vaccination protocols), three deal with African horse sickness (diagnosis and vaccination), and one involves glanders (diagnosis).

But all these efforts and research projects will have limited benefits if information is not shared with the public, Eloit said. Thus, an important part of the OIE’s new strategy is open communication, so animal owners throughout the world can be aware of what’s going on in worldwide—and local—animal health. “We need scientific information to be made accessible to the public, leading to immediate application of the information we need to convey,” she said.

Such open communication works in both directions, she said, allowing an exchange that brings field information into the OIE headquarters, as well. This is also the case at an official level, between member nations and the OIE, Evans added.

“One of the major pillars of our Sixth Strategic Plan is to ensure that we can translate the information made available to the OIE by its member countries, and that … the standards developed by the OIE can be implemented by the member countries,” he said. “In the absence of both of those situations, we will never establish the level of confidence or trust necessary that supports both the economic interests of the member countries, … nor for people to fully appreciate and understand the interface between animal health and public health … and equally, the ecosystem, environmental health, and biodiversity.”

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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