New WHO panel to investigate rise in zoonotic diseases and build action plan

The experts will advise several international organisations on how future outbreaks can be averted

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 21 May 2021
New WHO panel to investigate rise in zoonotic diseases and build action plan

The World Health Organization (WHO) has formed a high-level expert panel ‘One Health’ to study the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases like H5N1, avian influenza, MERS, Ebola, Zika and possibly the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The panel will advise global agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on how future outbreaks, especially due to zoonotic diseases, can be averted. It will also develop a surveillance framework and global action plan for the same.

Zoonotic diseases — pathogenic infections that transmit from animals to humans — have triggered pandemics in past as well. Three of every four infectious diseases are caused by zoonosis. Scientists across the world suspect COVID-19 is also a zoonosis.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:

Human health does not exist in a vacuum, and nor can our efforts to protect and promote it. The close links between human, animal and environmental health demand close collaboration, communication and coordination between the relevant sectors.

The experts will also closely study various human activities which disturb the natural wildlife and environment. Activities like food production and distribution and urbanisation cause biodiversity loss and climate change. This damage, along with the increased pressure over natural resources, is a suspected reason behind the rapid emergence of various zoonotic diseases. 

“We must do more to promote transformative actions that target the root causes of nature’s destruction,” said Inger Andersen, executive-director of UNEP. He added that the panel is an important step in recognising “the complex, multidisciplinary issues at the interface of human, animal and environmental health”.

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