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Long live the OIE

While the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) was blowing out the candles for its 90th anniversary last year, my 15 years as elected head of this institution was drawing to a close, and it will come to an end in December 2015. I was first elected to the post in 2000, and Member Countries reaffirmed their confidence in me by electing me for a further two successive terms, in 2005 and 2010. Together, we can be proud of the immense progress that we have made, especially in the fields of animal health and welfare. On 1 January 2016, Dr Monique Eloit will take her place at the head of the OIE and I know that she will continue to build on our initial achievements and develop many new projects.

Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE, with Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO. © OMS

The Office International des Épizooties, as the organisation was originally known, has developed and diversified considerably over the last decade. Based in Paris since its creation, the organisation has increased its activities and grown in size, and in 2009 it expanded its Headquarters by buying the adjacent building. In 2003, at my suggestion, the organisation was renamed the World Organisation for Animal Health, although it kept its historical acronym. The OIE has modernised its basic texts, multiplied its resources ten-fold, and adapted to the new animal health challenges confronting our world, while all the while reinforcing its legitimacy on the international scene. Today, the Organisation is among the three principal international organisations charged with health issues, and its standards are recognised by the World Trade Organization (WTO), and by at least 180 countries, as the international reference standards for the prevention and control of animal diseases, including zoonoses.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, the OIE’s mandate has been extended to include animal welfare, a complex issue which is causing increasing concern in our society. The first intergovernmental standards on this matter, all science-based, were approved by the General Assembly of OIE Member Countries in 2005. Today, they cover a great variety of issues across a number of key areas relating to terrestrial and aquatic animals, such as animal production systems, transport, methods of slaughter, and animal experimentation. Obtaining consensus and persuading 180 countries to commit to promoting these standards at the national level, regardless of their cultural or religious practices or economic situation, was a huge step forward on this important issue. Many other innovations have been introduced by the OIE and some of the most important achievements are outlined below.

We have developed prevention and control strategies for all the major infectious diseases of animal origin that threaten the world; in particular, those that can be transmitted to humans, which is true of 60% of the pathogenic agents found in domestic and wild animals. Controlling these diseases at the animal source has been important in ensuring that a large part of the world has been spared from experiencing most of the animal health crises that have occurred, such as the crises concerning avian influenza, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), rabies and brucellosis.

In 2011, together with all our partners, we were able to achieve the worldwide eradication of an animal disease, rinderpest, for the very first time. The strategy that made this possible will remain an historic model of cooperation and coordination on a national, regional and global level. It is already being envisaged that a similar approach will be used for peste des petits ruminants (PPR) and canine rabies in the years to come.

The OIE’s procedures for officially recognising a country’s epidemiological status in relation to certain priority diseases have been expanded to cover diseases such as PPR, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) and classical swine fever (CSF). This has enabled countries that so wish to determine their official status for these diseases. The procedures are extremely important for the global control of diseases and for the animal health safety of international trade in animals and animal products. They also apply to BSE, foot and mouth disease (FMD) and African horse sickness (AHS), as well as to the endorsement of official national control programmes for FMD, PPR and CBPP.

In 2007, the system for disseminating animal health information was modernised through the creation of the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS), which enables all Member Countries to connect to the server at OIE Headquarters. This has been important for the OIE’s policy of transparency and for facilitating its preventive approach to controlling both emerging diseases and the 117 animal diseases listed by the Organisation.

Another achievement of note came in 2014, with the adoption, for the first time, of a standard and guidelines to facilitate the international movement of competition horses. This standard is based on the concept of specific health management of a subpopulation of high-health, high-performance horses. Its development is the result of the valuable public–private partnership established between the OIE, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), and their national representatives.

Moreover, several programmes intended to increase solidarity among different countries have been developed. The creation of the World Animal Health and Welfare Fund in 2004 has allowed us to embark upon many activities that assist Member Countries in applying OIE standards and improving the governance of their national animal health and welfare systems, particularly through partnership with the private sector. The Laboratory Twinning projects, initiated in 2006, are a good example. Over the last two years, encouraged by the success of these projects, the OIE has also developed twinning projects between Veterinary Educational Establishments and between Statutory Veterinary Bodies.

These programmes represent a key stage in the progress of the PVS Pathway, which was initiated in 2006 with the aim of improving Veterinary Services. Of all the projects made possible by the OIE World Fund, the PVS Pathway is one of the most important. More than 130 countries have benefited from an independent assessment by the OIE’s accredited experts on how well they comply with the quality standards of the Organisation and with its standards of good veterinary governance, and many have since implemented the resulting recommendations. In addition, those at the centre of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) now consider the PVS Pathway to be an important tool for creating a world free from the threat of infectious diseases, both human and animal.

The close links between animal health and human health are what underlie the collaborative work that the OIE and the World Health Organization (WHO) carry out to coordinate the strengthening of national public health systems and help countries confront health risks at the human–animal interface. A joint WHO/ OIE guide has recently been developed for this very purpose. It is yet another example of how the ‘One Health’ concept – which led to the establishment of a Tripartite Alliance between the OIE, WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2011 – is being applied in practice. Other very useful collaborative relationships should not be forgotten, notably those with the Codex Alimentarius, in the field of food safety, and with the International Standardization Organization (ISO), in the area of animal welfare. Today, the OIE collaborates with nearly 70 other public and private international organisations.

As Hundertwasser, who called himself ‘the doctor of architecture’, said, ‘When a man dreams alone, it is nothing but a dream. But if many dream together, it is the beginning of a new reality’. Many of my dreams have become reality during these fifteen years, and this has contributed towards laying the foundation for a future in which animal health threats are effectively controlled. This has happened thanks to the progressive widening of the OIE network, which today has 180 Member Countries – in 2001 there were only 158 and China had not yet become a Member – nearly 1,500 national Focal Points and 13 Regional Offices. The OIE network of centres of scientific expertise has also grown steadily and is now bigger than it has ever been. Today, it includes more than 300 Reference Centres worldwide, spread over the five continents (in 2001, there were only 146).

This network of expertise and partners is today a guarantee of excellence. Among other things, it enables the OIE to carry out its continuing commitment to further strengthen the competencies of the principal decision-makers of its Member Countries in the areas of animal health and welfare, thus facilitating the protection of their populations, both animal and human.

You are all a part of this invaluable network.

So I want to thank you, dear Delegates, national focal points, experts and partners, as well as the veterinary profession and my colleagues at OIE Headquarters and the Regional Representations, for your continuing confidence, for our rewarding collaborations and for your contribution to, and unerring support for, the success of the OIE. Together we were able to become architects of world health.

While the world is now better prepared for animal health crises, there remain considerable collective challenges to address under the OIE mandate. We are faced with threats linked to climate change, the need to feed an ever-increasing world population, the emergence and spread of new diseases and the alarming growth of the phenomenon of antimicrobial resistance. These threats must be tackled on a global level with the utmost resolve. We must also deal with controversies – some of which are created with malicious intent and/or without a scientific basis – on environmental and health issues relevant to the relationship between humans and animals.

Supporting livestock farming, in all its diverse forms, is essential if we are to develop the livelihoods of the most disadvantaged communities and allow humanity to flourish.

The OIE hopes to continue to support pastoral systems, principally through the Livestock Global Alliance, as they are an important factor for development, the struggle against poverty and sustainable land management; we should always remember that, for many underprivileged communities, livestock farming provides a way of escaping poverty.

The OIE will continue to invest in strengthening Veterinary Services by helping Member Countries to apply the standards of good governance, guaranteeing the excellence of veterinary education and harmonising the content of such training at the global level.

I know that Dr Monique Eloit, who will take over as OIE Director General from 1 January for a five-year term (2016–2020), will be able to count on your support in leading the Organisation to future success in the years to come.

I am confident that she will continue to develop and strengthen this organisation, promote excellence, transparency and solidarity, and carry out the mandate entrusted to us, namely, to protect animals in order to protect our future.

Bernard Vallat

Contact : media@oie.int