FAO director-general stresses the crucial role of biodiversity in combating zoonotic diseases

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ROME: Emphasizing the interconnectedness of environmental, animal and human health, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu reiterated FAO’s commitment to continue supporting the mainstreaming of biodiversity across agriculture and food sectors also by the Hand in Hand Initiative.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the close links between human, animal and environmental health, in a context of increased human-livestock-wildlife contacts and ecosystem degradation,” the Director-General said Monday, noting the “importance of environmental sustainability as a key determinant of a long term “One Health for All”.

He alluded to the strong support of FAO to the establishment of the One Health High Expert Council, stressing the need to address inequalities in health, as “there can be no health security if vulnerable in the rural area are left behind”.

The Director-General noted that FAO had intensified its work at the interface of One Health and ecosystem restoration and that the Organization welcomes the PREZODE (PREventing Zoonotic Diseases Emergence) programme to map, assess and mitigate the risks of potentially emergent zoonotic pathogens.

He added that PREZODE can count on FAO’s fieldwork and global experience, citing the One Health “ECTAD” network of over 400 animal health experts working in 36 African and Asian countries as an example, as well as the Organization’s reference centres, and laboratory surveillance programme.

The Director-General offered using the new Joint FAO/WHO Center – which integrates workstreams on food safety, animal diseases and AMR – and the joint center on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture run by FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as support hubs for science-policy dialogue.

The Director-General spoke at the session alongside President Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Charles Michel, President of the European Council and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

He urged all stakeholders, including UN agencies, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector, to commit to a “One Health for All by All for One Healthy Planet” and to do so “historically, holistically, coherently and collectively.”

President Macron thanked the Director-General for the role FAO plays in promoting consistency in the international agenda for biodiversity and human health.

FAO’s contribution

The One Health approach has been a core pillar of FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme which has mobilized nearly $200 million so far with its vision of preventing the health crisis from becoming a food crisis while sustainably addressing fundamental risk factors. The Director-General emphasized his determination to optimize holistic development strategies to avoid exacerbating imbalances on both natural and social levels. “There can be no health security if the vulnerable in the rural areas are left behind,” he said.

FAO is also a recognized centre of excellence for its efforts to limit the emergence and transmission of animal-originating diseases such as Ebola virus diseaseMERS-CoV and avian influenza.

FAO also manages more than $500 million of dollars worth of projects that take a holistic approach to rural development – encompassing biodiversity, ecosystems, forestry and other environmental factors – in a way that contributes to reducing the potential for zoonotic disease emergence. FAO’s projects and networks can offer invaluable field-based benefits to PREZODE’s monitoring and surveillance efforts, the Director-General said, noting that FAO’s flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative also aims to mainstream biodiversity goals.

FAO’s priorities in its OneHealth approach is to strengthen monitoring, surveillance and reporting systems at all levels; to understand risk factors – including socioeconomic and cultural – for disease spillovers from wildlife to domestic animals and humans; to build capacity at all levels for better information-sharing and coordination among institutions and stakeholders; to reinforce veterinary and plant health, infrastructure and safe farm-to-table practices for food and animal production; and to increase the food and agriculture sectors’ ability to minimize the risks of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).