New panel to address the emergence and spread of zoonotic disease

May 21, 2021

International organizations have come together to launch a new One Health High-Level Expert Panel to improve the scientific understanding of how diseases with the potential to trigger pandemics emerge and spread, according to a news release from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The panel will advise four international organizations — the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE); the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and the WHO — on the development of a long-term global plan of action to avert outbreaks of infectious diseases. Some of the diseases to be studied include H5N1 avian influenza, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and, possibly, COVID-19. Three quarters of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, the WHO said.

It will operate under the One Health Approach, which recognizes the links between the health of people, animals, and the environment, and highlights the need for specialists in multiple sectors to address any health threats and prevent disruption to agri-food systems.

Key first steps will include systematic analyses of scientific knowledge about the factors that lead to transmission of a disease from animal to human and vice versa; development of risk assessment and surveillance frameworks; identification of capacity gaps as well as agreement on good practices to prevent and prepare for zoonotic outbreaks.

The panel will consider the impact of human activity on the environment and wildlife habitats. Critical areas will include food production and distribution; urbanization and infrastructure development; international travel and trade; activities that lead to biodiversity loss and climate change; and those that put increased pressure on the natural resource base — all of which can lead to the emergence of zoonotic diseases.

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