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19th Conference of the OIE Regional Commission for the Americas

Havana , November 21 – The 19 th OIE Regional Commission for Americas met in La Havana ( Cuba ) from the 18 th to the 21 th of November 2008 on the invitation of the Government of Cuba. Under the auspices of the OIE, countries of the Americas will develop, update and harmonise their standards on animal health and welfare, in general and on the appropriate use of biotechnology in the production and use of vaccines and diagnostic assays.

“One of the main obstacles to improving animal health in the region is the lack of a sound veterinary legislative framework in some countries including for the use of new technologies . We must address this problem”, Dr Bernard Vallat says.

In a region of the world where rabies is still a major public health threat in several countries, the tangible advances seen in vaccination can make a difference. The advent of recombinant-DNA vaccines has helped in the control of the disease and thanks to the use of oral recombinant-DNA rabies vaccines, thousands of animal and human lives have been saved in several parts of the world including the American continent. Aujeszky's disease (pseudorabies) is also under control in many parts of the Americas and Europe mainly due to the use of a recombinant vaccine. Ongoing research programmes will allow the same results for other animal diseases when they are finalised.

New powerful diagnostic assays and many other rapid approaches to detect pathogens and/or create immune responses after infection demonstrate the added value of biotechnology in advancing animal health and welfare worldwide. Countries asked the OIE to develop more standards in the field of biosecurity for the production and use of these products using the network of collaborating Centres and supporting members to update their legislation.

Putting an end to trade barriers linked with animal diseases 

The Conference also identified that unjustified trade barriers in animals and animal products were still common, mainly as a result of the non respect of WTO/SPS Agreement by many countries, even under the mandate given by WTO to the OIE as the world reference organization for animal health issues. Countries committed during this Conference to be more involved in the OIE Standards setting and mediation processes, using the support provided in this field by the OIE Regional and Sub-Regional representations in America .

The Conference reaffirmed that OIE standards on compartimentalization, zoning or traceability represent many ways to facilitate safe trade, particularly for countries that still face animal disease events. The application of standards, recommendations and guidelines detailed in the OIE Terrestrial and Aquatic Animal Health Codes, guarantees and secures safety of trade between all countries and provides benefits in the fields of animal production, food safety and public health.

“The least developed countries have the greatest difficulties because they are entwined in a vicious cycle of poor animal health conditions, increasing trade barriers, and a worsening of their own food security,” Mrs Maria del Carmen Perez Hernandez, Minister of Agriculture of Cuba explained.

Review of outbreaks of OIE listed animal diseases

Over the past year, some countries in the region have had to deal with outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, classical swine fever, rabies, bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis, among others. Participants stressed the importance of early notification and transparency of animal disease situation using the new OIE WAHIS system and the much appreciated assistance - when relevant - from the newly established OIE sub-regional office in Panama .

Recommendations adopted by the Conference will be submitted for consideration and final adoption by all OIE Members at the next General Assembly of 172 OIE national Delegates, in May 2009.

The Conference was kindly hosted by the Government of Cuba. It was chaired by Dr Emerio Serrano OIE Delegate of Cuba to the OIE with the support of the OIE Headquarters and the OIE Regional and Sub-Regional Representations for the Americas .

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