Geneva, Rome, Paris: A global early warning system for animal diseases transmissible to humans (zoonoses) was formally launched this week in WHO, Geneva by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Global Early Warning and Response System (GLEWS) is the first joint early warning and response system conceived with the aim of predicting and responding to animal diseases including zoonoses worldwide. This system builds on the added value of combining and coordinating the tracking, verification and alert mechanisms of OIE, FAO and WHO.
"From an animal health point of view, controlling contagious animal diseases in their early stages is easier and less expensive for the international community. In cases of zoonoses this system will enable control measures that can also benefit public health," explained Dr Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE.
As demonstrated throughout much of the globe, weaknesses of early detection and rapid response for animal diseases, and the inability to control major diseases at their source, have contributed to the spread across borders of diseases of animal origin such as bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza.
"In such a context, the main expected outputs of GLEWS are better prediction and prevention of animal disease threats, through sharing of information, epidemiological analysis and joint field missions to assess and control outbreaks in animals and humans. That will lead to the development of improved coordinated response to emergencies worldwide," said Dr. Samuel Jutzi of FAO´s Agriculture, Biosecurity, Nutrition and Consumer Protection Department.
"History shows us that the earlier we can detect a zoonosis, the early we can take action to reduce the threats to people. Today, the spread of avian flu reinforces the fact that the animal and human health sectors must work closely together, and that early detection and coordination is critical. This new network is an important step forward." explained Mrs Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, WHO Assistant Director-General.
The information gathered through the tracking and verification channels of each organization will be shared using the GLEWS web-based electronic platform and jointly analyzed to decide whether to issue common early warning messages. These alert messages will describe the possible implications of disease spread among animals at national, regional and international level and its potential public health impact. If there is a clear indication that a joint on-site assessment or intervention is required, the response mechanisms of the three organizations will be activated in a collaborative fashion.