Return to Table of Contents: WVA Bulletin Vol 16 No 1 January 1999
Veterinary and human medical programmes against zoonoses
Interaction at a global level - Historical aspects
V. Kouba - Professor, MVDr V. Kouba, PhD, DrSc, Former Chief, Animal Health Service, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Professor of Epizootiology, Brno University of Veterinary Medicine, Czech Republic.
Introductory lecture presented at the WAHVM (World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine) Congress 1998, Munich, Germany.
The history of common global activities of veterinary and human medical services against zoonoses started after establishing the United Nations, i.e. after World War II.
This analysis is dedicated to the interactions of inter-governmental organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Office of Epizootics (OIE) on one side and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the other side. The paper is based on available historical documents and on personal experience of the author who was many years leading animal health officer of the FAO and expert of the WHO and the OIE.
Global organizations involved in zoonoses control programmes
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with HQs in Rome which was founded in 1945. Its Animal Health Service has been responsible within the United Nations' system for global veterinary policy. It assisted to member countries in zoonoses control through elaborating and implementing particular national, regional and global field programmes including establishment and strengthening animal health services manpower, organization, management, information systems, diagnostic laboratories, vaccine production and control, etc. It was supported by the international networks of specialized FAO (event. joint with WHO) collaborating centers and reference laboratories. Chiefs of Animal Health Service were R.B. Griffiths, Y. Ozawa, V. Kouba and Y. Cheneau.
World Health Organization (WHO) with Hqs in Geneva, a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1948 participated through its Veterinary Public Health Unit (VPH) and international networks of WHO (event. joint with FAO) collaborating centers and reference laboratories in the field of zoonoses. Regional role had the Mediterranean Zoonoses Control Center (MZCC), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and its Pan American Zoonoses Center (CEPANZO), etc. The VPH Unit was for many years a part of the Division of Communication Diseases and from 1995 of the Division of Emerging and Other Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Control as Zoonotic Disease Unit. Its activities were concentrated on zoonoses control and food hygiene assisting to member countries through methodological documents (published in Technical Report Series or as separate documents) with recommendations and standard methods important for the protection of human health against diseases transmissible from animals. Chiefs of Veterinary Public Health Unit were M.M. Kaplan, M. Abdussalam, Z. Matyas, K. Boegel and F.X. Meslin.
International Office of Epizootics (OIE) with Hqs in Paris was founded in 1924 as specialized inter-government agency. It has coordinated national veterinary services, elaborated standards of diagnostic methods and measures against animal diseases, including zoonoses, and provided basic recommendations for international trade in animals and their products. It was collecting and disseminating information on animal disease situation through weekly reports, monthly bulletin and the World Animal Health Yearbook. Scientific information was disseminated through publications such as Scientific and Technical Review. Very important for the coordination were annual General Sessions of the International Committee and regular sessions of the Regional Commissions. OIE activities were supported by several commissions of specialists, working groups and reference laboratories as well as collaborating centers. Directors General were R. Vittoz, L. Blajan and J. Blancou.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with Hqs in Vienna participated through veterinary unit of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture assisting member countries in developing and introducing modern diagnostic methods for selected diseases including zoonoses such as brucellosis, trypanosomiasis, etc.. Heads of the Animal Production and Health Section were J.D. Dargie and M.H. Jeggo.
"The second half of 20th century was the most important historical period in controlling zoonoses in animal and humans achieving many formidable results. Interactions of the global international organizations contributed through the national veterinary and public health services to the territorial reduction and eradication of several specific zoonoses".
Forms of interactions
The above mentioned organizations established close relations for the work to combat selected zoonoses assisting to member countries in different forms with the aim to improve zoonoses epidemiological and epizootiological situation. Main forms of interactions consisted of:
a) Common and coordinated reporting and information systems, monitoring and surveillance, epidemiological and epizootiological field and laboratory investigations.
· FAO-OIE-WHO Animal Health Yearbook founded in 1956. (Photo 1). This three-languages yearbook produced in about 6,000 copies was disseminating information about more than one hundred animal diseases including major zoonoses occurring in all the countries of the world. The book was distributed free of charge to all the governments for relevant ministries, all veterinary faculties, all reference laboratories, all collaborating centers, other leading institutes and personalities. The contents see in Table 1. Chief-Editors were H.O. Konigshofer, V. Kouba, M. Bellver-Gallent, L. Velloso, P. Finelle and V.R. Welte. From 1996 due to economic difficulties this yearbook ended. OIE World Animal Health yearbook took over only basic statistical tables.
The OIE Group of
b) Common and coordinated preventive and prophylactic, disease reduction, elimination and eradication strategies, programmes and measures.
· WHO and FAO common field programmes against: rabies in developing countries, trypanosomiasis and Rift Valley Fever in Africa, brucellosis in Mediterranean Region, foot-and-mouth disease in South America, parasitic zoonoses in developing countries, etc..
· FAO/WHO/OIE Inter-agency Consultation on Strengthening of National and International Services in Animal Production Hygiene, Ottawa, Canada, 2-9 September 1990. (Photo 2).
c) Common and coordinated methodological instructions for field actions and for laboratory diagnosis standards, zoonoses research and production of specific diagnostic material (sera, antigens, etc.).
d) Common expert committees, expert consultations elaborating different recommendations for the member countries governments, veterinary services, institutions and schools.
· WHO/FAO Expert Consultations on zoonoses (see Tab. 2)
· FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Brucellosis
· FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Meat Hygiene
· FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Milk Hygiene
· FAO/WHO Expert Consultations on Veterinary Education (see Tab. 3).
WHO with participation of FAO organized in Brno in 1983 a particular Consultation on Under-graduate and Post-graduate Teaching in Veterinary Public Health which produced detailed models of syllabi for teaching subjects related to the protection of human health, priority being given to zoonoses.
e) Common programme for the education, training and extension through workshops, training courses, symposia, seminars etc. dealing directly or indirectly with zoonoses. Both FAO and WHO provided assistance in training of teachers for veterinary schools and supplied internationally recruited teachers, essential teaching equipment and books as well as international fellowships.
· FAO/WHO World Directory of Veterinary Schools was published in 1963. Veterinary chiefs of the FAO, OIE and WHO were members of WVA Education committee.
f) Common publications supporting modern technology transfer.
· Monographs on meat and milk hygiene published by FAO and WHO
· Manual for Teaching Basic Veterinary Epidemiology prepared at WHO/FAO Collaborating Center in Teramo with the participation of WHO and FAO experts and published by Istituto Zooprofilatico Sperimentale, Teramo.
· Guiding principles for planning, organization and management of veterinary public health programmes prepared by WHO experts with the assistance of FAO experts and published by WHO/FAO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Veterinary Public Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Laboratorio di Parassitologia, Rome.
· Special issues of the OIE Revue Scientifique et Technique, Paris in 1991 and 1992 containing papers dealing with veterinary public health problems (zoonoses and food hygiene) where participated veterinary chiefs as well as experts of OIE, WHO and FAO.
g) Other common activities related to protection of human health was represented by FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission as an international body with the specific aim of protecting the health of the consumers, ensuring fair practice in the food trade and promotion of harmonization of food standards.
h) Of particular importance were FAO/WHO or WHO/FAO reference laboratories (majority of them dealing with specific zoonoses) and FAO/WHO or WHO/FAO collaborating centers performing specific studies, research, training and diagnostic tests, providing information, advise, etc..
i) The cooperation was supported by official agreements at the level of Directors General such as OIE-FAO Agreement approved by the FAO in November 1952 and by the OIE in May 1953 and OIE-WHO agreement approved by the WHO in February 1961 and by the OIE in May 1962.
j) Historically first interaction between WHO and FAO to control zoonotic diseases was the meeting of the Joint WHO/FAO Expert Group on Zoonoses in Geneva in 1950 which defined the measures for controlling brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis and anthrax.
k) Usually one international organization was in charge of the given common event, i.e. being responsible for organizing, experts inviting, financing and reporting.
Zoonoses control programmes
a) National and international programmes against zoonoses were usually interlinked. International organizations provided technical recommendations and direct help. National veterinary and human medical services implementing specific programmes contributed by their experience to improve international activities. Several zoonoses were reduced or eradicated in different countries thanks also to the assistance of global international organizations. However, no one zoonosis has been globally eradicated yet.
b) Relatively good results were achieved in controlling bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis. According to WHO data, the number of cases in human brucellosis world-wide was estimated to be about 500,000. Following the recommendations of the WHO and FAO general pasteurization of cow milk was introduced as a protective measure against bovine tuberculosis saving health and life of millions of inhabitants.
c) Rabies. International programmes under the leadership of WHO and supported by FAO and OIE based upon national actions against rabies were generally successful saving thousands human lives. In spite of this WHO World Survey of Rabies for the year 1996 estimated world-wide number of human rabies deaths to be between 35,000 and 50,000 annually.
d) Trypanosomiasis. Costly programme against trypanosomiasis in Africa contributed significantly to the reduction of human cases. However, much more work has been left for the future to fight against this very dangerous diseases with natural focality among wild animals. In this field the interaction among relevant international organization was exemplary. The joint programme has been carried out by FAO, WHO, IAEA and OAU/IBAR together with national governments supported by many donor countries and organizations.
e) Screwworm. Example of successful international programmes contributing effectively to economic development and protection of human health was the eradication of the New World screwworm (Cochliomyia hominivorax) in Northern and Central America during second half of 20th century and in Northern Africa during 1989-1991. The latter programme was implemented under FAO leadership supported by WHO and OIE as well as by several donor countries and organizations (Photo 3).
f) International control programmes against salmonellosis, trichinellosis, toxoplasmosis, listeriosis, Q-fever, leptospirosis, parasitic zoonoses such as echinococcosis/hydatidosis, cysticercosis, etc. represented other common actions of the above mentioned international organizations.
The second half of 20th century was the most important historical period in controlling zoonoses in animal and humans achieving many formidable results. Interactions of the global international organizations contributed through the national veterinary and public health services to the territorial reduction and eradication of several specific zoonoses and thus to the reduction and elimination of specific risk and incidence in human populations.
Unfortunately, global data on zoonoses in human population were not available. Therefore, it was impossible to quantify the final world-wide effect of common programmes against these diseases. However, it can be supposed that in selected zoonoses, such as bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis, Malta fever, rabies, trichinellosis and trypanosomiasis, the global incidence in human population was reduced.
This is not the case in hundreds of zoonoses not being internationally controlled. Their spreading was continuing due to increasing legal and illegal international trade in animals and their products without corresponding control of government veterinary services. Globalization risk of animal diseases spreading, including zoonoses, represents alarming danger, particularly when historical experience is not respected and strict protective measures not applied. It was very sad situation when in the territory, in which specific zoonosis was eradicated, the same disease was again introduced due to benevolent import conditions or insufficient veterinary control in exporting and importing countries. The above mentioned international organizations are responsible to member countries for international measures avoiding spreading of zoonotic diseases.
Professor MVDr Vaclav Kouba, PhD, DrSc, born in Czech
Republic in 1929, graduated in 1953 at Brno University of Veterinary Medicine.
Formerly: Chief, Animal Health Service, Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations (FAO), Rome; Veterinary Public Health Expert, World Health
Organization (WHO), Geneva;
Table 1. Contents of the FAO-OIE-WHO Animal Health Yearbook
Animal Diseases tables according to individual
Number of Livestock and Human Population (tables)
Number of Veterinarians and of Animal Health Auxiliary Personnel (tables)
Zoonoses in Human Population (*)
Main Changes in the Epizootiological Situation
Types of the Virus of FMD identified at Pirbright World Reference Laboratory
Report of the European Commission for the Control of Foot- and Mouth Disease
Reports of Pan American Foot- and Mouth Disease Centre
Report on the FAO Animal Health Service Activities (*)
List of FAO Field Veterinary and Other Projects backstopped by the Animal Health Service (*)
Report of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture (*)
Report of FAO Regional Offices: for Africa (RAF), Latin America and the Caribbean (RLC), Asia and the Pacific (RAP) and Near East (RNE) (*)
List of FAO Publications and Documents on Animal Health (*)
List of FAO Meeting Reports dealing with Animal Health (*) Report of the International Office of Epizootics (OIE) (*) Report of the of the World Health Organization (WHO), Veterinary Public Health (*)
List of WHO Zoonoses Centres and WHO Collaborating Centre List of FAO Reference Laboratories, FAO Collaborating Centres, FAO/WHO and WHO/FAO Col. Centres (*) List of software packages related to animal population, veterinary economics, management and epizootiology*)
(*) Introduced by the author when he was the Editor-in-Chief
Table 2. Examples of the WHO/FAO Expert Consultations on zoonoses
WHO (1951) First Joint WHO/FAO Expert Group on
WHO (1959) Second Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Zoonoses
WHO (1967) Third Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Zoonoses
WHO (1969) Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Zoonoses
WHO (1979) Parasitic zoonoses: WHO Expert Committee with the participation of FAO
WHO (1982) Bacterial and viral zoonoses. WHO Expert Committee with the participation of FAO
Table 3. FAO/WHO expert consultations on veterinary education
First International Meeting on Veterinary Education,
London 25-30 April 1960
First Meeting of the FAO/WHO Expert Panel on Veterinary Education, Rome 14-23 March 1962
Second Meeting of the FAO/WHO Expert Panel on Veterinary Education, Rome 23 April-2 May 1963
Second FAO/WHO International Meeting on Veterinary Education, Copenhagen 12-21 August 1965
Third Meeting of the FAO/WHO Expert Panel on Veterinary Education, Rome 12-16 July 1971
Fourth Meeting of the FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Veterinary Education, Uppsala 28 August-2 September 1978
Fifth Meeting of the FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Veterinary Education, Rome 7-10 September 1993
1) From the right: J. Blancou, Director General, OIE, K. Boegel, Chief, Veterinary Public Health, WHO and V. Kouba, Chief, Animal Health Service, FAO when attending Inter-agency Consultation on Strengthening of National and International Services in Animal Production Hygiene, Ottawa, Canada, 2-9 September 1990.
2) Cover page of the FAO-OIE-WHO Animal Health Yearbook.
3) Screwworm (Cochliomyia hominivorax) - a severe case of human myiasis infesting a wound on the cheek just below the ear. (Photo FAO).
Return to Table of Contents: WVA Bulletin Vol 16 No 1 January 1999