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The OIE’s new policy in terms of animal health information

Animal disease information exchange among countries was one of the major reasons for creating the Office International des Epizooties, and goes back to the first international conference held in March 1921, more than 80 years ago.

On the strength of its long experience in the exchange of animal health information with Member Countries, the OIE seeks to fulfil this mission more efficiently by providing higher quality information more rapidly to Member Countries and to the international community in general. The information would cover epidemiological events that occur in Member Countries and an exhaustive presentation of the animal health situation across the globe. It is for this reason that in January 2002, the former Information and International Trade Department was divided into two separate departments – the International Trade Department and the Animal Health Information Department.

The strategy adopted by the new Animal Health Information Department is to optimise the use of new information technologies for the benefit of Member Countries and the improvement of animal health world-wide. Special care will be taken to ensure that countries that have difficulty in accessing the new technologies will not be penalised.

To improve the efficiency and speed with which animal health information is disseminated among Member Countries and to increase public access to this type of information, a rapid, systematic electronic distribution list will be created. This will include all Delegates of the Member Countries and other OIE partners. In order to provide wider access to the information, the electronic distribution list will also be available to anyone interested in receiving this type of information.

To improve transparency in the international distribution of animal health information, the OIE will develop a new communication and awareness policy on the aims and usefulness of its information system. An active search process for unofficial information based on various sources will also be developed. The new policy will involve contacting the Delegates of Member Countries to systematically verify any unofficial information collected. In no event will the OIE publish information without the prior consent of the Delegates. This will improve the quality of the OIE data, which is the most exhaustive and most reliable animal health information reference in the world.

The OIE will continue to encourage initiatives designed to improve the quality of animal health information collected in the field in its Member Countries. A more targeted policy to promote the animal disease reporting system, the global animal disease database and its interface on the OIE web site (Handistatus) will be developed with greater involvement of the Delegates, the regional Representations and regional surveillance and control networks (SEAFMD, PACE, etc.), in collaboration, when necessary, with other international organisations.

The user-friendliness and coverage of the OIE web site will be improved continually. In this respect, one of the priorities of the Animal Health Information Department will be to complement the development of Handistatus by including a mapping component. This will provide a visual representation of the situation of different diseases in space and in time, and Handistatus will be an effective tool for summing up the animal health situation in a country, a region or the world.

Dr Karim Ben Jebara, veterinary epidemiologist, has been appointed Head of the Animal Health Information Department. Dr Ben Jebara worked for more than five years on the establishment of the Regional Animal Disease Surveillance and Control Network (RADISCON, FAO/IFAD), which covers 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. His international experience, especially in running this regional network, and in the practical, interactive training of partners working in the fields of epidemiology, disease surveillance and in animal health information management in general, will no doubt be highly beneficial to the implementation of the new information policy of the OIE.

Bernard Vallat

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