In 1989, the WHO declared smallpox to be the first human disease ever eliminated and in 2011, the OIE announced rinderpest was first animal disease ever wiped out. These successes have clearly demonstrated that disease can be wiped off the face of the planet.
However, it requires global coalitions working together to implement effective vaccination programs. This requires strong, international support for vaccine R&D and improved market access in regions where it is critical these tools reach human and animal health professionals .
What diseases are next?
The success in eradicating rinderpest prompted the world veterinary community to look for other diseases to tackle, and settled on three:
Of these, PPR eradication is expected to cost US$2.26bn over 15 years, which will create $US 76.5 billion in benefits to farm communities, nearly 34 times the original investment and equal to 25% of the annual agricultural output of sub-Saharan Africa2.3
These activities are being led by the OIE, FAO and other global institutions. Learn more at the OIE website.5
Dramatic victories against deadly diseases in the 21st century, from eradicating rinderpest to slashing rates of polio, have been a triumph for modern medicines. People have seen family live healthy lives thanks to new treatments. Farmers and veterinarians have cured deathly ill animals and prevented the suffering of even more.
Antibiotics and vaccinations have been leading tools in achieving, and securing, these gains. Vaccines have become a bedrock of disease prevention, allowing veterinarians to stop outbreaks before they occur. However, disease will always be a threat and some animals will become sick during their lives. Veterinarians rely on antibiotics to help them care for these ill animals.
However, our world is rapidly changing. Climate change spurs deadlier outbreaks, rising populations strain food supplies and diseases continually adapt to available tools. Governments and animal medicines companies have met similar challenges in the past though and can continue to do so.
By continually developing new medicines and supporting robust treatment programs, we will support farmers and veterinarians facing these evolving threats. We must also work together to ensure medicines remain effective by treating a sick animal with the right medicine, at the right dose, at the right time and with the right oversight. A principle known as – as little as possible, as much as necessary.
With this approach, antibiotics and vaccinations, alongside other key tools like proper nutrition, hygiene, and husbandry, can help veterinarians better protect the health of our animals long into the future.
The modern era of antibiotics kicked off in 1928 when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin could treat infections quickly and effectively. However, historians have found evidence of antibiotic usage in ancient communities as far back as 2,000 years ago.
Ever since these first antibiotic treatments, we have faced resistant infections. Recent studies have found that certain resistant strains can be traced back thousands, even millions of years. It is a natural, evolutionary defence and an unavoidable challenge7.
However, through modern techniques and technologies, we can work to control and manage the issue to ensure antibiotics remain effective long into the future. This will safeguard the health and well-being of our families, communities and animals.
Effective antibiotics save the lives of countless people and animals each year. For the millions facing the dire symptoms of a disease like leptospirosis – high fever, muscle pains, vomiting and more – these invaluable tools prevent life-threatening consequences.
However, overuse or misuse of antibiotics can create heartier strains of resistant bacteria and weakens the tools available for fighting disease. For example, the U.S. CDC estimates that 1 out of 3 human antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and could be treated with other methods. As a result, they have identified 18 drug-resistant threats to our health that must be controlled in order to protect the lives of friends and family.
This is why animal health professionals believe in a simple, clear and firm approach for antibiotics – as little as possible, as much as necessary. Each illness is unique, however, by working with professionals – from veterinarians to public health officials – farmers can develop the right treatment to keep our animals healthy, while preserving these tools for the future.
However, we cannot solve this problem alone. Two or three of the CDC’s 18 drug-resistant threats can originate in animals, campylobacter and non-typhoidal Salmonella. Tackling them all means the animal and human health sectors must collaborate in an open, transparent approach that focuses on clear, practical solutions.
When animals get sick, they suffer just as we do. Veterinarians and farmers cannot afford to lose antibiotics or animals will pay the price. Managing resistance can be difficult, but it is possible. If animal and human health can work hand-in-hand on this challenge, we can safeguard our health for generations to come.
Whether working with an animal or a person, health professionals always seek to prevent disease rather than treat an outbreak. This not only keeps the patient healthy, it’s simpler, easier and more cost-efficient
Vaccines, medicines that improve immunity to a disease, have been a bedrock of disease prevention since the first vaccinations were developed in the late 1800s. Vaccination has eliminated smallpox in people, rinderpest in animals and can control other diseases against which no other treatment exists, such Foot-and-Mouth Disease, canine distemper and rabies.
In the coming years, international campaigns will fight to eliminate deadly diseases like polio in people and peste de petit ruminants (PPR) in livestock through robust vaccination programs. Their efforts will save thousands of lives, transform rural farming communities and improve the quality of life for animals and people.
Disease prevention is not a static challenge though. Disease constantly evolve and new strains continually emerge. However, vaccine companies have worked for decades to remain agile and adapt. Their efforts focus on preventing disease not just today, but far into the future.
Through modern technologies and cutting-edge research, researchers are developing new vaccines against diseases which have little effective treatment. For a disease like brucellosis, which infects 500,000 people through animal-to-human transmission, this can transform regions.
For centuries innovators, from Louis Pasteur to modern medicine companies, have worked tirelessly to deliver new vaccinations. They are bedrocks of disease prevention and remain essential tools for protecting the health of our pets and farm animals.
Portable technologies will help fill the void in information about the movement and emergence of livestock diseases throughout the world. For example, pilot studies have shown how farmers, health workers and veterinarians in developing countries can use smartphone apps to share images and data from sick livestock – this can accelerate the ability to identify and report diseases.
Satellite data has been used to map rainfall across huge expanses of territory to help predict future patterns of disease such as Rift Valley fever, heavily influenced by local climatic conditions. Researchers in parts of the world where livestock are ranched over large areas are exploring the use of ‘Smart’ ear tags – these small devices continuously broadcast an animal’s movements and can provide warnings of impending disease outbreak as sick animals become less active
If animals kept by people for food or companionship are to enjoy a reasonable quality of life, then efforts to maintain their health is a necessary component of improved animals welfare.
Recent incidents of bluetongue and Schmallenberg in animals, and the Ebola virus in humans have shown that progress can be made when publicly-funded research institutions and the product development skills of the private sector are combined 9.