OIE mandates support Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention’s crucial objectives

80 percent of pathogenic agents that can potentially be used in bioterrorism are zoonotic, that is animal pathogens with the capacity to infect humans. The activities of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in prevention and control of animal diseases worldwide fully contribute to the international effort in preventing bioterrorism including agro terrorism.

“The OIE is committed to take an active part in counteracting bioterrorism as its work falls within the objectives of the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention (BTWC) in the field of prevention and control of animal diseases events whether deliberate or natural,” Dr Gideon Brückner, Head of the OIE Scientific and Technical Department commented at the 6 th Review of the Convention held at the United Nations Geneva office from November 20 th to December 8th.

BTWC is a Convention opened for signature in 1972 that bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and retention of microbial or other biological agents or toxins, in types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes. All OIE Member Countries by democratically adopting the organisation’s standards and guidelines on the prevention and control of animal diseases commit to report all relevant animal disease outbreaks on their territory to the OIE The organisation is mandated to share this information with the international community and thus contributes to the BTWC objectives. This dynamic process is essential to the worldwide prevention and control of natural or intentional biological disasters.

National veterinary services key to preventing and countering bioterrorism

Thwarting bioterrorism threats linked with animal pathogens goes through the improvement of national veterinary services governance. The weaker veterinary services of a country, the more prone it is to acts of bioterrorism. Over the last years the OIE has drawn attention to the crucial role of national veterinary services and worked for their recognition as an International Public Good.

“When dealing with emergency diseases outbreaks, we cannot afford technical weaknesses, which is why insisting on compliance with OIE standards and building capacity together with improving the quality and efficiency of veterinary services all around the globe is primordial to counter bioterrorism,” Dr Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE said.

Once a country is equipped with efficient veterinary services and animal health control measures, it also has to be able to act upstream through early detection of biological disasters of animal origin and carry out rapid response mechanisms.

The OIE developed and launched the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS). Through this web-based application animal health information is disseminated immediately to Member Countries and made readily available to the general public .

All Member Countries of the OIE are commited to inform the OIE Central Bureau within 24 hours of the occurrence of any unusual epidemiological event on their territory – such as for instance an act of bioterrorism involving the use of animal pathogens.

Also, the OIE, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) developed a Global Early Warning and Rapid Response system (GLEWS) which allows linking the human and animal pathogen interface through the sharing of complimentary information on zoonotic diseases and animal diseases.

Major global programme evaluates quality of veterinary services and laboratories

“Should an outbreak be intentional, the risk of public panic increases and creates a chain reaction that has a multidimensional impact.” Dr Vallat explained.

Especially, developing and in-transition countries must be full actors in the global prevention and control of natural and intentional biological disasters.

Failure by one single Member Country in identifying and addressing biological threats endangers the international community as a whole. It is therefore the duty of all to assist and support countries align with OIE international standards on animal diseases surveillance, prevention and control.

That is why the OIE initiated a major programme that analyses the state of developing and in transition countries veterinary services based on its standards on quality.

Evaluations are implemented using the Performance, Vision and Strategy (PVS) tool which allows Member Countries that request it, pinning down lacks and needs of their veterinary services and make the appropriate political and budgetary choices as a result, including request for international financial support.

The OIE also provides standards for the biosecurity of laboratories dealing with animal pathogens.