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Responding to the COVID-19 crisis: the contribution of the veterinary profession

In the face of the current pandemic, solidarity is key. On the occasion of World Veterinary Day, which will be held on April 25th, the OIE pays tribute to the great effort made by the veterinary profession to support the human health sector, from research to human sample testing, as well as provision of human and material resources.

© OIE/A.Lkhagvasuren

Paris, 24 April 2020 - The COVID-19 pandemic has put considerable pressure on public health services across the globe over the past three months. So far, around 200 countries have reported human cases of COVID-19 and hundreds of thousands of human deaths have occurred. Even if it is suggested that the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged from an animal source, and some animals have become infected by people, the pandemic is being driven by human to human contact. No evidence, to date, has shown that animals are playing a significant role in spreading the disease.

This pandemic impacts populations in numerous ways and reminds us that multi-sectoral collaboration, in line with the “One Health” approach, and the sharing of expertise are more important than ever. A vast amount of knowledge has been gathered rapidly since January. Yet, uncertainties remain, and much work still needs to be undertaken to better understand the origin of the virus and how it entered the human population.

Scientists are working around the clock to better understand the virus and its evolution, to develop interventions, and to enhance capacity to respond to this human health crisis.

This pandemic awakens the need for longstanding and sustainable One Health collaboration which can take many forms.

Beyond collaborative research, the animal health sector, and in particular, Veterinary Services, contribute in various ways towards building a common response to the pandemic. In many countries, veterinarians have shown their commitment to support the work of human health authorities. Veterinary laboratories have used their experience and expertise in high throughput testing capacity of infectious diseases to engage in activities such as surveillance screening, by testing human samples, thereby supporting the diagnostic capacity of human health services. Some veterinary clinics have been donating essential materials such as personal protective equipment and ventilators. Veterinary professionals have also been volunteering in hospitals and laboratories when human resources were not sufficient. In some countries, veterinary epidemiologists have been supporting their counterparts in the public health response to track the disease in humans and to support the development of effective public health interventions.

In conjunction with crisis management effort, it should not be forgotten, that on a daily basis, the activities of Veterinary Services contribute to addressing critical needs, which are heavily challenged in the current circumstances: food security and safety, as well as livelihoods are intrinsically linked to sound animal production systems. It is crucial that Veterinary Services continue to implement their multiple activities, which contribute to ensure a continuum in safe food provision for populations and to sustain their subsistence. The downstream effects of COVID-19 on economies, animal health, and food security remain as important as ever.

Through its mission to set animal health and welfare standards, to inform, and to build capacity, the OIE is fully mobilised to accompany Veterinary Services across the world to address the situation. It has put in place a response mechanism to support them in several aspects of their work. The OIE liaises closely with its Tripartite partners, WHO and FAO. Several OIE expert groups are developing scientific advice on research priorities, sharing results of on-going research in animals, and developing scientific opinion on the implications of COVID-19 for animal health and veterinary public health. The OIE has also developed high level guidance for veterinary laboratories working with public health services to support testing of human samples and is currently developing guidance on the circumstances under which exceptional testing of animals might be justified. Looking to the future the OIE is working with its Wildlife Working Group, Member Countries and international partners to develop an ambitious work programme which aims to reduce and manage risk of spillover events between wildlife, livestock and humans.

The unprecedented nature of this pandemic and the mysteries around this virus require new and innovative approaches to tackle it; these will only be developed through cross sectoral collaboration and collective action.

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