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Thinking globally

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THE programme for the World Veterinary Association's (WVA's) congress in Prague last week covered a wide range of topics spanning several disciplines. Nevertheless, for those attending some of the presentations, it was hard to avoid a single inescapable message. This is that diseases are becoming more complicated, as is their prevention and control, and tackling them effectively will require a truly coordinated, multidisciplinary approach. Whether part of the organisers' original intention or not, the importance of applying the ‘one world, one health’ concept was an underlying theme in many of the presentations, although as one speaker remarked, perhaps with tongue only partly in cheek, many disease problems could be avoided, particularly in the developing world, if only the world could achieve one wealth.

As discussed at the congress, the elimination of rabies requires a one health approach, and it is good to see this message being reinforced in a joint statement today from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The statement is being issued to mark World Rabies Day, and makes the point that mass vaccination of dogs is critical to the success of programmes aimed at preventing the disease in people (see p 279 of this issue).

Tackling antimicrobial resistance also requires collaborative effort, as recognised in the UK's five-year strategy on this subject which was published by the Government earlier this month (VR, September 21, 2013, vol 173, pp 254, 255). Meanwhile, understanding of influenza virus and how it moves between people and animals has already improved as result of a multidisciplinary approach, and the attention and investment that have been devoted to this virus in recent years. However, as the WVA congress made clear, there are many other diseases – whether emerging or re-emerging, parasitic, vector- or food-borne – that would benefit from a one-health approach, which needs to be applied more widely. This was true not just in relation to specific diseases but also in other areas, ranging from disaster management and coping with the effects of climate change through to managing biodiversity and increasing food production sustainably. None of these issues can be viewed in isolation and, it was made clear, a holistic approach is necessary.

One health in this context is not just a matter of vets and medics working together more closely, although that in itself would be helpful. As a number of speakers pointed out, the nature of today's challenges may also require input from specialists across a wide range of disciplines, including, for example, entomologists, climatologists, engineers, social scientists and economists, depending on the project in hand. An international willingness to address these issues was important, even essential, but experience had shown that diseases and other problems could not be solved simply by adopting a top-down approach and that, for programmes to succeed, engagement with communities and those providing services at local and national level was vital.

The importance of ‘being prepared’ was emphasised by a number of speakers in relation both to disaster management and to potential disease incursions; in the case of vector-borne and other infectious diseases of livestock, this involved developing vaccines that could be deployed quickly in the event of an outbreak. Surveillance was fundamental to efforts to contain disease spread and, with a worrying trend towards reduced public investment in this area, new approaches to surveillance had to be found. New and emerging diseases are best tackled at source and, it was pointed out, in many parts of the world, there is an urgent need to develop and strengthen veterinary capacity locally.

Animal welfare also featured prominently at the congress, being the subject of a one-day seminar involving a number of international agencies. Various issues were discussed but, here again, the one health concept was considered relevant, on the basis that, even (or perhaps particularly) in the most impoverished or disrupted parts of the world, where other priorities might seem more pressing, improving the welfare of animals can improve the lives of people who depend on them.

During the congress, the WVA celebrated its 150th anniversary, with a re-enactment of its first meeting, held in Hamburg in 1863. That meeting, involving professors from veterinary schools across Europe, had been called by John Gamgee, who had founded a veterinary college in Edinburgh, to discuss ways of combating epizootic diseases and devise common rules for trade in cattle. There have been many developments since 1863, not least that one of the main diseases discussed at the meeting – rinderpest – has since been eradicated worldwide. This year's meeting in Prague served to underline the importance of the veterinary profession's contribution to world health and show that international collaboration is, if anything, more important now than ever.

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