The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FOA) said it had trained no fewer than 4,700 veterinary health professionals to tackle disease outbreaks in animals.
It said the veterinarians were the new frontline of defence, protecting farm animals against deadly illnesses in 25 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The Chief Veterinary Officer of the organisation, Juan Lubroth, said the UN food security agency had been organising the trainings over the past year.
“In addition to keeping fowl, cattle, pigs and other animals safe, the freshly trained veterinarians will also help keep at bay diseases that are deadly to humans,” he said.
Lubroth said, “Some 75 per cent of new infectious diseases that have emerged in recent decades originated in animals before jumping to us, Homo Sapiens, a terrestrial mammal.
“This is why adequately discovering and tackling animal disease threats at-source represents a strategic high-ground in pre-empting future pandemics.”
According to him, beyond the risks posed to human health, animal diseases can cost billions of dollars and hamstringing economic growth.
“For instance, outbreaks of high impact disease in recent decades, all had an animal source.
“These include H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza, H1N1 pandemic influenza, Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) ,” he said.
The H5N1 outbreak of the mid-2000s alone caused an estimated 30 billion dollars in economic losses, globally. A few years later, H1N1 racked up as much as 55 billion dollars in damages.
As with any disaster, the worst affected are often the poorest and most vulnerable.
“Animals are their primary capital assets – ‘equity on four legs’. Losing them can push these families out of self-reliance and into destitution,” Lubroth said.
Backed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the FAO trainings covered critical areas related to animal health.
It included disease surveillance and forecasting, laboratory operations, biosafety and biosecurity, prevention and control methods and outbreak response strategies.
“A proactive approach to animal health and disease is critical.
“For that approach, the world needs well-trained, up-to-speed professionals – biologists, ecologists, microbiologists, modellers, physicians and veterinarians.”