Disease cost data may improve disease control

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Global animal health authorities will try to help countries improve their accounting of the costs of animal diseases and their prevention.

Such economic data could be used to justify spending on animal health and welfare, despite pressure on government budgets.

Lack of data is an important barrier to these types of economic analyses, and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) will advocate for methods to better measure the scale of losses. That will include recommending that veterinarians’ initial training incorporate understanding of the economic aspects of animal health and welfare, establishing pilot projects for estimating the economic impacts of animal diseases and the costs of operating national veterinary services, and investing in countries’ animal disease reporting systems.

Delegates to the OIE General Session, May 22-27 in Paris, voted to endorse those policies on the basis of findings in the report “The economics of animal health: direct and indirect costs of animal disease outbreaks,” which includes results of surveys of veterinary services from 118 of the OIE’s 180 member countries.

The two authors from the Royal Veterinary College in London, Jonathan Rushton, PhD, and Will Gilbert, wrote that animal diseases cause major economic losses, and data on production losses and the costs of interventions could pave the way for letting economics guide decisions on improving animal health and welfare. The report notes that discussions on the economic impacts of diseases had increased in part because of the effects of foot-and-mouth disease, highly pathogenic avian influenza, and classical swine fever, among other diseases, as well as rising pressure on public-sector budgets and the need to present “business cases” for animal health investments.

The report describes a lack of data despite participation from almost two-thirds of OIE member countries.

For example, countries provided cost information on 128 of 358 major animal disease outbreaks since 2000, but the total cost of $12 billion was skewed by a single transmissible spongiform encephalopathy outbreak costing $7 billion. The authors also noted a lack of responses from countries with known avian influenza outbreaks.

Attempts to quantify the impacts of endemic transboundary diseases yielded no useful data, according to the report.

The survey also yielded limited data quantifying the effects of animal diseases on trade and national economies.

The survey responses indicated many areas of the world have limited access to individuals with formal education in managing animal disease, the report states. Half of countries provided the costs of veterinary services, and they showed wide variation on investment per animal.

“Both these items of data indicate a general weakness that animal health professionals and economists need to explore further in order to provide guidance on the numbers of animal health professionals and financial investments required per livestock unit,” the report states.