September 15, 2009


 Health summit issues a call to action for the profession

Experts talk about need for collaboration across health disciplines

By Greg Cima
Posted Sept. 1, 2009

Ambassador Robert G. Loftis said disease can spread across the world within hours, and the only task more difficult than planning for a pandemic is explaining why you didn't. 

The special representative for avian and pandemic influenza at the Department of State said it is a challenge to remain diligent against a threat that may not materialize for decades. But the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome and highly pathogenic H5N1 has demonstrated the world's vulnerability and lack of preparedness, he said. 

Loftis delivered the comments July 11 during the opening session of the two-day Global Animal Health Summit: A Call to Action to the U.S. Veterinary Profession. The summit was part of the 2009 AVMA Annual Convention in Seattle. 

Dr. Bernard Vallat
Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the World
Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), talks about
veterinarians' roles in the health of animals and
people worldwide during the Global Animal
Health Summit: A Call to Action to the U.S.
Veterinary Profession.

 Ambassador Robert G. Loftis

Ambassador Robert G. Loftis discusses pandemic
planning and collaboration across medical
disciplines during the summit.

Dr. James E. Nave, chair of the AVMA Committee on International Veterinary Affairs and the AVMA director of international veterinary affairs, welcomed convention attendees to the summit and offered his hope that the sessions would inspire and motivate attendees to become involved in veterinary medicine beyond the boundaries of their communities, states, or countries.

Dr. Roger K. Mahr, past president of the AVMA, moderated the opening session of the summit. He indicated animal and human health are at a crossroads and said, "Embracing the one-health concept calls for collaborative leadership across the various professional associations, academia, government positions, nongovernmental organizations, and industry." Integrating the concept will improve health worldwide, he added.

Dr. Mahr was appointed as CEO of the One Health Commission Aug. 14.

The One Health Commission was incorporated as a nonprofit organization less than two weeks before the convention and about three years after Dr. Mahr—then the newly elected AVMA president—proposed the One Health Initiative.

Ambassador Loftis said the U.S. is more prepared for a pandemic than five years ago, and he praised the Department of Agriculture and United States Agency for International Development for their work with foreign governments to prepare for disease outbreaks, mitigate outbreaks, provide training and technical assistance, and promote collaboration across health disciplines.

"Although the U.S. government has not taken a definitive position on the specifics of the one-world/one-health proposal, I hope you discern from my comments that we are working from within the U.S. government to better coordinate our efforts and to integrate animal and human health," Loftis said.

Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), stated that people need to know more about the links between animal health, food security, and global health. He said the world has unprecedented movements of commodities and people, and no community is remote.

Dr. Vallat also said alliances between public and private veterinarians are essential, and the public needs appropriate disease surveillance and early detection, notification, and response during outbreaks.

Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said the veterinary profession needs a workforce that is trained, ready, and confident to address issues across disciplines, such as emergency response, occupational health, and bioterrorism. The AAVMC is reaching out to partners in veterinary medicine and working to train a larger veterinary workforce.

Dr. David M. Sherman, adjunct professor in the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, said 630 million of the world's poor depend on livestock for survival, and 80 percent of the populations of some countries with rural agrarian economies depend on them for their livelihoods. Veterinary care is especially important in communities where people take out loans for their animals, he said.

Poverty, war, difficult terrain, lack of infrastructure, and economic barriers can prevent access to veterinary medicine, Dr. Sherman said. He showed symposium attendees a photograph of ruins from a quarantine and inspection station located along a migratory route in Uganda. The station had been destroyed 15 years before the picture was taken, he said.

"Unfortunately, the capacity for effective regulatory medicine is highly variable for the world's nations," Dr. Sherman said.

Humans are also at increased risk from proximity to wild animals because of encroachment, Dr. Sherman said. He showed a picture of the trans-Amazonian highway cutting through dense vegetation in Brazil and a second picture taken a few years later, when secondary roads crossing the highway headed deep into the jungle.

Dr. Sherman said veterinarians need to engender in veterinary students a broader perspective of global challenges and recognition of global disparities, and give them a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the planet. He encouraged active engagement of the veterinary profession in global issues and an integrated approach, with physicians, wildlife biologists, conservationists, and veterinarians working in collaboration.

"We need a collective voice; we need it as a profession to identify what the priorities are that are important to us and to speak out about them and use that collective voice to lobby for resources so that we can address the problems that are important to us in a global perspective," Dr. Sherman said.

The symposium included information about what is being done worldwide to improve veterinary services.

Dr. Said Gul Safi, president and CEO of the Afghan Veterinary Association, talked about veterinary services during Taliban rule and at present, the development of his association throughout the country, and how it assists vaccination programs and helps maintain the health of food animals. The association is also involved in providing diagnostic services, training paraveterinarians, providing newsletters about animal health and production, supporting local libraries, and providing access to international journals, including JAVMA, he said.

Dr. Valerie Ragan, the director for the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, attended the summit and said the symposium showed the tremendous need for veterinary services worldwide and how the profession can benefit animal and human health and support the livelihoods of people who depend on livestock. She said information on the Afghan Veterinary Association was particularly interesting, as it provided a new perspective on a country often thought of only as a war zone.

Dr. James M. Harris of Hobart, Tasmania, another attendee, said the global health summit was "the most remarkable symposium that has ever been presented by the American Veterinary Medical Association." But he said the speakers were preaching to the choir, and he jokingly suggested all attendees should be given hooks and a requirement to drag colleagues to the lectures.