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Preventing future pandemics hinges on improving Global South livestock systems, says new One Health playbook

Scientists present 18 ways governments, investors and experts can protect human health by addressing interactions with livestock and their environment across seven key areas.

July 18, NAIROBI – A new One Health playbook offers governments around the world 18 practical ways to improve livestock systems in developing countries that will unlock benefits for global health and development.

A “livestock-inclusive” One Health agenda focused on seven key areas in the Global South would help protect the whole world against pandemic diseases, according to the brief from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Around three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases in humans have their origins in wild and domestic animals, and – before the Covid-19 pandemic – animal-borne diseases almost exclusively affected people in low-income countries. Just 13 of the 200 known zoonotic diseases cause 2.2 million deaths a year, mostly in developing nations.

Scientists at ILRI highlighted how investments into healthier and sustainable livestock systems in developing countries would benefit the three interconnected areas of “One Health”: animal, human and environment, and reduce the risk of disease spillovers.

The recommendations include increasing the availability and uptake of livestock vaccines to reduce the threat of cross-species disease outbreaks, raising public awareness of the precautions needed to limit disease spread, and improving food hygiene and safety standards at informal markets.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance and ubiquity of livestock in countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Everything from food and nutrition to gender equality, livelihoods and trade depend on farm animals,” said Jimmy Smithdirector general at ILRI.

“Healthy livestock mean healthy people and environments, which not only enables low-income countries to sustainably grow their economies but also improves global health security, minimising the risk of disease outbreaks that spread worldwide.”

The brief, which comes ahead of the next meeting to discuss an international “pandemic prevention treaty”, also highlights the importance of improving early detection of emerging zoonotic infections in animals both to protect the livelihoods of the poorest and to prevent pandemics in people. One such disease is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), a virus that is transmitted by camels, which are becoming increasingly popular in countries such as Kenya for their climate resilience.

Scientists at ILRI and partners have started enhanced surveillance of MERS in camels both to provide a better understanding of camel diseases and to get ahead of potential outbreaks in people, which could develop into another pandemic.

“As the World Health Organization progresses a new pandemic preparedness treaty, it is critical that governments seize the opportunity to invest in livestock systems to improve public health,” said Hung Nguyen-Viet, co-leader of Animal and Human Health Programat ILRI.

“Tackling zoonotic diseases at source would dramatically reduce the number of human illnesses and deaths while saving trillions of dollars in future epidemic or pandemic control.”

In addition to preventing pandemics, livestock-based One Health approaches can also contribute to healthier ecosystems, particularly when applied to mixed crop and livestock systems. In such systems, crop residues provide animal feed while animals provide organic fertilizer to maintain soil health, as well as traction and income that in turn can be reinvested into crop production.

Similarly, healthier livestock systems also increase the resilience of communities and economies, leaving rural populations less susceptible to hunger, malnutrition and ill-health. Some 70 per cent of the world’s 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty depend on livestock for a living. Improving productivity through smarter feeding, farmer training and rangeland management can allow herders to get more from their animals, leading to higher incomes, more nutritious diets and better health prospects.

“As we saw with the Covid-19 pandemic, health vulnerabilities and threats in one part of the world can quickly spread and impact the entire global population,” added Dr Smith.  

“Livestock’s prevalence in developing countries makes them a unique vehicle through which to improve the lives of the most vulnerable, and in doing so, protecting health gains the world over.”


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