September 01, 2005


 Report analyzes nation's animal health framework

More coordination needed locally, internationally

Posted August 15, 2005 

"This is probably one of the most special times in the history of veterinary medicine, in terms of the opportunities that we have and our ability to respond to meet the needs of our society," said Dr. Lonnie King, chair of the Committee on Assessing the Nation's Framework for Addressing Animal Diseases.

In July, the National Academies released "Animal Health at the Crossroads: Preventing, Detecting, and Diagnosing Animal Diseases." Written by the committee, the report is part one of a three-part study that analyzes the United States' animal health framework for dealing with animal diseases. Part one centers on how the country's current animal health framework has responded to previous animal disease scenarios, and how the framework could be improved.

The report took 18 months to complete and was sponsored by the National Academies, located in Washington, D.C. Pending supplemental external support, the proposed second part of the study will focus on the framework's surveillance and monitoring capabilities, and the third part will center on the framework's response and recovery from an animal disease epizootic.

"The report is really kind of a call to action, to look at how well we've performed across the animal health framework and veterinary medicine, and realizing that we're going to need to change and transform," said Dr. King, who's also dean of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Office of Strategy and Innovation at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The animal health framework includes people who deal with animals on a production level, in animal habitats, or in a companion animal household; veterinarians and animal health professionals; federal, state, and local animal and public health agencies; several international organizations; and many supporting institutions.

As committee members tested the system, they reaffirmed the broadening scope of the veterinarians' role in society because of the recent increased risks to animal and public health, such as zoonotic diseases and other contemporary problems that the profession hasn't faced before, Dr. King said.

During the study, the committee identified several weaknesses, needs, and gaps that were consistently encountered in the framework's response to specific situations that involved animal diseases such as avian influenza, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, chronic wasting disease, foot-and-mouth disease, monkeypox, Newcastle disease, and West Nile disease. The committee focused on these diseases because they can affect the adequacy of the international food supply and they can have substantial implications for global trade and commerce.

In an effort to strengthen the framework, the committee listed 11 recommendations in its report. One recommendation states that the nation should establish a high-level, centralized, authoritative, and accountable coordinating mechanism or focal point for engaging and enhancing partnerships among local, state, and federal agencies and the private sector.

Dr. King said this recommendation especially stood out in the minds of the committee members because, with overlaps and gaps in current framework programs, there is an urgent need for coordination among all components of the framework.

Next, the committee recommended that the United States commit resources and develop new shared leadership roles with other countries and international organizations. The purpose is to create global systems for preventing, detecting, and diagnosing known and emerging diseases, disease agents, and disease threats as they relate to animal and public health.

"Our world is more complex and interconnected and the report emphasized that the framework needs to adjust to this reality in both how it works and with whom it works," Dr. King said.

"In 2003, I can remember waking up one morning, we had West Nile virus, monkeypox, and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) all in the United States at the same time. And this was the first time in history that any of these zoonotic diseases were found in the Western Hemisphere," he continued. "It was a pretty dramatic reminder of how our world has changed and how a local problem overseas can actually become our problem tomorrow."

Education and training were the focus of two recommendations in the report. The committee recommended that industry, producers, AVMA, government agencies, and colleges of veterinary medicine build veterinary capacity through recruitment and preparation of additional veterinary graduates into careers in public health, food systems, biomedical research, diagnostic laboratory investigation, pathology, epidemiology, ecosystem health, and food animal practice.

Second, the committee recommended that the Department of Agriculture, state animal health agencies, AVMA, colleges of veterinary medicine, and departments of animal science develop a national animal health education plan. Its focus would be the education and training of individuals from all sectors involved in disease prevention and early detection through day-to-day oversight of animals.

The report states that there are insufficient graduates to meet the needs in a number of distinct fields of veterinary medicine such as basic biomedical science and pathology. Dr. King said these recommendations are meant to provide the AVMA and other animal health groups, along with the colleges of veterinary medicine, with a special role to help equip individuals in the framework with the necessary skills and training to meet the 21st century challenges.

The need for more education and training in veterinary medicine relates to another study released by the National Academies in July called "Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science" (see JAVMA, Aug. 15, 2005). Though the reports are separate, both address the need for the veterinary profession to better prepare for the latest diseases threatening animal and public health.

For a listing of all 11 recommendations, obtain a copy of "Animal Health at the Crossroads" from the National Academies Press at (800) 624-6242 or online at