Importance of Animal Health

Over just 12 years at the start of this millennium, six international incidents of animal disease caused economic losses of $US 60 billion more than the entire gross domestic product of countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Cambodia1.


Along with the suffering of animals themselves, animal diseases devastate some of the world’s poorest communities and damage international trade. Preventing and controlling diseases grows economies, bolsters local communities, and improves the health of vulnerable populations, especially the young and elderly. What’s more, securing a safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply at a time of rapidly increasing population depends on healthy, productive animals.

Explore Importance of Animal Health and learn more.

Protecting our Health

The diseases that affect animal health also affect ours. Tackling them while they are present in animals not only safeguards our health, it is easier, more effective and less expensive to address.

Global disease prevention, management and control efforts must recognize the interdependent relationship between animal and human health – an approach known as ‘One Health.’ This ensures healthcare researchers and practitioners in both areas work hand-in-hand to prevent disease outbreaks across species and address the root cause of their spread. This has led to the successful management of deadly diseases like avian flu, and is being used to eliminate others in the future.

Endemic, zoonotic, pathogen – what does it all mean?

Endemic diseases are always present in a community to one degree or another. Incidence levels may fluctuate, but the disease always remains a continual concern.
An epidemic is a widespread occurrence of disease in a community at a particular time
Zoonotic diseases are those which can be passed between animals and humans
Vector-borne diseases are transmitted by the bite of an infected species, such as mosquitoes or ticks. Some diseases (such as Lyme disease) are vector-borne and Zoonotic
A pathogen is a bacterium, virus or microorganism that can cause disease
Foodborne diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites transmitted when food is contaminated, such as through poor storage, in the supply chain.

What is One Health?

The One Health concept recognises the interdependent relationship between the health of humans, animals and our shared environment. Our world is connected, and if one is threatened, it has repercussions for the other two. In people, for example, at least 60% of all diseases originated in animals – preserving their health can safeguard ours 2.

Policymakers, NGOs and practitioners from the animal and human health sectors must work together to solve our common problems with a One Health approach.

This means sharing ideas and knowledge around treatment, and tackling problems like zoonotic disease with a systemic, integrated approach.

Feeding our World

The global population is expected to rise from its current 7 billion to over 9 billion by 2050 5. It’s like adding the entire population of Africa to our world…..twice. This means a surge in the global demand for milk, meat and eggs as people, especially in developing regions, look for nutritious ways to feed their families and communities.

With many more mouths in need of high-quality protein, there is increasing competition for natural resources. In recent decades, the efficiency of livestock production has improved significantly thanks to modern tools like better nutrition, vaccinations, and improved breeding.

However, with more than two billion additional mouths to feed by 2050, this is not enough. We must further invest in research and development, prevention tools, treatments and technologies that will continually improve farm efficiency and preserve natural habitats.

Feeding a growing middle class

A tale of two worlds

Developed nations: evolving practices,
care and technology

Endemic diseases are becoming less common on farms in most developed countries, thanks to better husbandry, biosecurity, veterinary services and medicines. For example, antibiotics have helped reduce clinical mastitis in UK10 dairy cattle by around 80% in the past 30 years. It is important because when animals are healthy and thriving, they can produce more nutritious milk, meat and eggs for our families and communities.

Developing nations: greater access,
and support required

But in the developing world, serious disease outbreaks have been able to spread in recent years. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers of animals affected by disease outbreaks appears to be growing, just as the capacity of governments to deal with these problems seems to have declined11. Without proper access to medicines and animal care, economic growth can stagnate, while farmers struggle to produce the food their families and communities require.

Collaborating for success

Feeding a population of 9 billion by 2050, while protecting our environment requires improving the productivity of livestock farming in developing regions. In a country like India, the average dairy cow produces, on average, 1300 litres of milk each year. However, in a country like Israel, a dairy cow produce 12,000 litres – nearly 1000% more! Sharing new knowledge and technology across borders can allow farmers produce more for their families, communities and countries in the decades to come13.

Growing our Communities

For farm families around the world, livestock is an essential driver of community growth. They are not just a source of healthy, essential proteins through meat and milk, they are an investment that can help families expand their operations. In developing regions, a single animal can provide food for their family, manure for their plants and labor to help till the field.

Farmers then become more productive, which provides greater income that can be spent on their family’s wellbeing and within their community. Their health can improve and the businesses around them can grow. For resource-poor, developing regions, these are transformative contributions..

However, the loss of an animal can be equally devastating to the family and community. As the United Nations Food and Agriculture organisation has said -- “The loss of livestock not only represents a loss of income for families, but also family savings and investment over many years. Livestock represents a safety net for many families and the loss of such productive assets will impact significantly on lives and livelihoods.”

Keeping animals healthy keeps communities vibrant and growing as well. Ensuring farmers have the necessary tools, like modern vaccines, antibiotics and treatments, and access to veterinarians are essential in meeting this goal.

Healthy animals are the foundation of vibrant and growing communities. Tools like modern vaccines, antibiotics and treatments, as well as access to veterinarians allow farmers to protect their animals, which supports the friends, family and community around them.

Healthier families, healthier incomes
The addition of just one head of livestock to farms in a developing region like southeast Asia or Sub-Saharan can be life-changing for local families and communities. Learn how:

When a farmer invests in livestock, from a head of cattle to a flock of chickens, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates he will reap 10% in returns over the next six years.
Following a national initiative promoting dairy cow ownership in Kenya, researchers found children on participating farms had lower rates of stunted growth14.
Preventative care, including animal mediciness, in the time of a disaster in a developing region provides $6.69 in benefits for every $1 spent15
A recent study found young children in a rural area of east Africa who regularly ate livestock-sourced foods, like milk and meat showed stronger results in cognitive, physical and social tests versus children who lacked access to these products16.
A program in Rwanda to provide a cow to over 200,000 farm families found recipients reaped higher incomes, improved nutrition, better access to credit, improved shelter and farm equipment, and more.
State of Animal Health