Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  Docteur / Doctor Bernard Vallat

At the forefront in preventing disease crises of animal origin 

By Doctor Bernard Vallat, the Director général of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)

In 1924, some time before the creation of the United Nations, a handful of inspired veterinarians decided to create an international organisation capable of informing member countries on outbreaks of animal diseases, in order to help them protect themselves, and of exchanging scientific information essential to the fight against animal diseases.

France hosted the first international conference which led creating the “Office international des epizooties” (OIE) and accordingly, Paris was chosen to host the headquarters of the organisation. Since then, France is vouching for the permanent respect of the International Agreement creating the OIE.

The 28 signatory countries of the International Agreement of 25 January 1924 grew over the next 80 years to become 167 today. The idea driving the founding veterinarians, that a true veterinary policy could not be implemented at national level alone, is more relevant today than ever.

In its more than 80 years of existence, the OIE and its member countries have witnessed many significant events. Following official recognition by the World Trade Organisation in 1994 as an international reference organisation for safe international trade in animals and animal products as regards risks due to animal diseases and zoonoses, the OIE took a new step   forward in 2003.   At the 71st General Session of the International Committee, the Delegates of the member countries decided to change the traditional name “Office international des epizooties” to « World Organisation for Animal Health » , while keeping, for the time being, the historical acronym « OIE ».

The OIE member countries have thus given their organisation a new momentum, bearing witness to its modernisation and clarification of its mandate. The latter has evolved over the years, and now extends beyond the improvement of animal health and welfare world wide, as well as their possible impact on human health.

The enhanced risks of international dissemination of pathogens due to globalisation have led, in recent years, to veritable disasters such as the bovine spongiform encephalopathy, foot-and-mouth disease, and, very recently, the avian influenza crises. In the light of these events, the role of the OIE, and the historically recognised values of rigour and quality that characterizes its scientific and technical statements, are proving even more useful to the international community.

The OIE and all veterinarians and other professionals work-ing in animal health world wide are being challenged to respond to new global demands. This is the reason why our organization has expanded from a mandate traditionally focused on the management and prevention of animal diseases to a broader approach, responding to new public demands regarding the improvement of food safety, the protection of the public from diseases of animal origin and animal welfare.

Indeed, the international community is being faced with the emergence of new zoonotic diseases, many of which should be first detectable in animal populations. 75% of new emerging diseases of concern to humans and 80% of pathogens which are potential tools for bioterrorism are of animal origin. It is therefore our duty to influence governments to invest more in mechanisms permitting the early detection of emerging and re-emerging diseases transmissible to humans and providing a rapid response before those incidents cross international borders. The most efficient and cost effective way to eliminate these public health threats is to detect and control them at their animal source.

To ensure safe food for consumers is another demand placed on our profession. We at the OIE are still convinced that food of animal origin is a source of wealth for humanity and the provision of an abundant and safe supply of milk and meat for the people of every country of the world should be an international priority. The OIE works closely with Codex Alimentarius in providing standards and guidelines, and preparing the Veterinary Services of all countries to participate efficiently in ensuring the safety of our animal food from the farm to the table.

The welfare of animals is also an important subject within the work plan of the OIE as a result of an increasing demand of society, and one that needs to be addressed in the same scientific manner as the development of guidelines for the protection of animal health. Also, it should be emphasised that improving animal health represents a strong action in favour of animal welfare. Thus, it was decided by its Member Countries that the OIE should provide international leadership in animal welfare which, is reflected through the development of science-based standards and guidelines, the provision of expertise and relevant education and research activities world wide.

Of course, these new obligations do not replace the traditional missions of the OIE, namely the transparent reporting of the animal health situation around the world. The publication of World Trade Organization recognized standards on regularly updated animal disease control methods and on protecting the world trade of animals and animal products from the spread of pathogens, remain an important part of our activities.

In this respect, I invite developed countries and international donor organizations worldwide to join our efforts to help poor countries fight animal diseases, because these are factors in poverty, they represent a concern for public health, they block market access and they also constitute a permanent threat to countries currently free of diseases.

The OIE Fourth Strategic Plan adopted by the OIE International Committee at its latest General Session in May 2005 will serve as a basis for the achievement of these goals.

This new programme reaffirms the relevance of the objectives in the previous plan and clarifies the OIE’s priorities. With this new global mandate, the OIE will play an even greater role in the policies linked to the improvement of public health by controlling zoonoses, including those that are food-borne; to the improvement of the safety of world trade in animals and animal products; to the promotion of the access of Member Countries to regional and international markets; to the promotion of animal welfare by ensuring animal health and adopting international rules to strengthen it; to the promotion of the role of national Veterinary Services in implementing such actions and to the support of their capacity-building.

The Fourth Strategic Plan consolidates the essential tasks defined in the previous plan:

– transparency in the world animal disease situation

– development of scientifically-based standards

– establishment of guidelines for the prevention, control and eradication of animal diseases

– determination of the disease status of Member Countries.

It introduces new key strategic guidelines to boost:

– the OIE’s influence on global, regional and national policies for governance mechanisms to improve animal health, and on the definition of priorities for scientific research policies

– actions on capacity building carried out by the

OIE through its Regional and Sub-Regional Representations (Bamako, Bangkok, Beyrouth, Buenos Aires, Gaborone, Sofia and Tokyo).

– the OIE’s support role to Member Countries in helping them resolve bilateral or multilateral trade disputes involving animal health.

These new guidelines will mean reinforcing the capacity of the Central Bureau in Paris, the Regional Representations and the OIE worldwide network

of 170 Collaborating Centres and Reference Laboratories; developing relations with donors and other international partner organisations. In this respect, the OIE has signed official agreements with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) which were unanimously approved by the member countries of both the OIE and those organizations. Similar agreements have been signed with almost twenty other organizations at a global (such as the World Bank), intergovernmental regional and professional level. The implementation of these new policies will help reaffirm that the OIE is a public good for the international community.

The OIE will continue to actively raise the awareness of Member Country governments to encourage countries and relevant international bodies to increase their investments in animal disease prevention and surveillance through their veterinary services.

I wish to take this opportunity to once again extend my warmest thanks to all the OIE member countries which, in May 2005, showed their continuing confidence by

re-electing me to head the Organisation for a further five years. This is a great honour and, during this new term of office, I shall do my utmost to further the OIE’s development and to enhance its scientific competence, rigour and authority, spurred on by the noble ambition of improving animal health and its benefits for public health, poverty alleviation and animal welfare worldwide.
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