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Holistic approach needed to tackle disease

A veterinarian tests blood samples for signs of disease (© FAO/Ishara Kodikara)
A veterinarian tests blood samples for signs of disease
© FAO/Ishara Kodikara

With population growth, agricultural expansion and the rise of global food chains dramatically altering how human and livestock diseases emerge, a new, more holistic approach to managing disease is needed, a new report states. According to the FAO report, World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscapes, 70 per cent of new diseases that have emerged in humans since the 1940s are of animal origin.

"Livestock and wildlife are more in contact with each other, and we ourselves are more in contact with animals than ever before," says FAO's Ren Wang. "What this means is that we cannot deal with human health, animal health, and ecosystem health in isolation from each other - we have to look at them together, and address the drivers of disease emergence, persistence and spread, rather than simply fighting back against diseases as they emerge."

The report advocates greater attention to prevention through the 'One Health' approach, which tackles environmental factors, animal health and human health simultaneously by bringing human health specialists, veterinary specialists, sociologists, economists and ecologists together to work on disease issues together. At the same time, the report states that "livestock health is the weakest link in our global health chain. Disease must be addressed at its source - particularly in animals."

The report concludes by identifying four main issues that require attention: reducing poverty-driven endemic disease burdens in humans and livestock; addressing biological threats driven by globalisation and climate change; providing safer food that comes from animals (meat, milk, fish, eggs, cheese and yogurt for example); and preventing disease agents from jumping from wildlife to domestic animals and humans. Other issues highlighted include the need to compile better evidence on the drivers of animal disease, and establishing stronger mechanisms for exchange of information internationally.

Date published: December 2013

 

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