The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it had drawn on its experience in past animal health emergencies to develop the "One Health" initiative, which aims to improve global response to disease outbreaks, implement effective prevention and containment strategies and manage risks.
The strategy, developed in collaboration with UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health, also includes boosting the knowledge of the causes of disease outbreaks in livestock production. FAO is requesting donors to invest in its suggested five-year initiative.
Actions envisaged in the One Health initiative include: enhancement of disease early warning and detection systems; strengthening of capacity for surveillance and response; identification and assessment of disease causes in food animal production and natural resource management.
Others are the strengthening of the capacity of public veterinary services in preparation, prevention and response to animal disease occurrence; assessment of the social and economic impact of diseases; associating private sector stakeholders with public sector action in livestock and wildlife health.
The pandemic influenza viruses H5N1 and H1N1, foot-and-mouth disease, Rift Valley fever, and rabies are among the more recent animal disease outbreaks that have had an impact on human health and people"s livelihoods, FAO said in a press release.
Land use, ecological dynamics including climate change, and expanding trade and trade routes are all posing new challenges to animal disease prevention and control, the UN agency warned, pointing out that the emerging threats are also related to increased urbanization and rising demand for meat, milk and eggs.
"We are expecting the costs to human, animal and plant health of these pathogens, and their overall economic costs, to rise substantially over the next decades," said Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer.
In the United Kingdom, for example, a 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was estimated to have cost the Government and private sector between $25 and $30 billion. The 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada is estimated to have cost between $30 and $50 billion.
In developing countries, high impact trans-boundary animal diseases pose a direct threat to the food security, nutrition and income of rural communities that are dependent on livestock.
The collective influenza virus gene pool currently circulating in humans, poultry, pigs and other animals is becoming more diverse with new strains of the virus across different hosts becoming increasingly common, according to FAO.
Given the increase in urban food waste, an increasing number of scavenging animals such as dogs are roaming in urban spaces and human habitats. Certain wild species of animals are also thriving in urban environments posing new threats to human health such as rabies.
As a result of human population increases, people are farming animals in locations closer to natural habitats, thereby increasing the risk of disease transmission between domestic animals and wildlife and thus affecting biodiversity and conservation efforts.
"This is not science fiction," said Mr. Lubroth. "The threats are very real. Deadly and economically devastating livestock epidemics have existed throughout history but there is no doubt that more pathogens are emerging " and spreading. The good news is, with the right policies, they can be better detected and contained," he said.