A new international expert panel to address the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases was launched by World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in May 2021.
The One Health High-Level Expert Panel will advise the four organisations on the development of a long-term global plan of action to avert outbreaks of diseases like H5N1 avian influenza; MERS; Ebola; Zika, and, possibly, COVID-19. Three quarters of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals.
The panel will operate under the One Health Approach, which recognises 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 animals to humans 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 High-Level Expert Panel is a much-needed initiative to transform One Health from a concept to concrete policies that safeguard the health of the world's people", said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
It will consider the impact of human activity on the environment and wildlife habitats. Critical areas will include food production and distribution; urbanisation 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.
The panel will guide the development of a dynamic new research agenda and draw up evidence-based recommendations for global, regional, national and local action.
*Photo: *Composite photo: (top row) FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, Monique Eloit, OIE Director-General and (bottom row) Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Niels Annen, Germany's Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office.