Millions to monitor animal diseases and prevent future pandemics

Jamieson Murphy
By Jamieson Murphy
Updated January 4 2022 - 3:37am, first published January 3 2022 - 1:30am
Millions to monitor animal diseases and prevent future pandemics

AUSTRALIA will aim to be a world leader in monitoring animal diseases, pouring millions into increasing its early warning capabilities to prevent future pandemics.

The federal government will invest $8.4 million over the next four years to monitor emerging diseases in both wildlife and domestic animals, including those with pandemic potential.

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There are an estimated 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in mammal and bird hosts, which could evolve into different variants that pose an unknown level of risk to humans.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the government was taking a "true One Health" approach that recognised the interdependencies of human, animal and environmental health to prevent future pandemics

"COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the importance of recognising and managing emerging zoonotic disease risks which can originate from wildlife," Mr Littleproud said.

"This program positions Australia as a world leader of the global transformational change agenda aimed at preventing future disease risks emerging from the human-animal-environmental interface."

The government has partnered with Wildlife Health Australia (WHA) which will lead delivery of the program, using its extensive networks across the country to investigate and analyse wildlife disease events.

Nearly all major exotic livestock diseases of potential concern to Australia, including African swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease, will have wildlife or feral animals as part of their cause or spread.

WHA will be bolstered with more funding for thorough field, laboratory and epidemiological investigation into selected wildlife disease events.

WHA chief executive Rupert Woods said the new program would allow the organisation to identify the underlying causes of wildlife health events.

"[That will] both improve the outcomes for our wildlife as well as providing the information we need to more thoroughly analyse the potential One Health implications of such events," Dr Woods said.

The program will also seek to establish WHA as an official World Organisation for Animal Health Collaborating Centre on Wildlife Health for Australia and the Indo-Pacific.

Australia is already helping its Pacific neighbours fight African swine fever, providing Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea with more than $400,000 to mitigate future outbreaks.

AFS hit Timor-Leste in September 2019 and the outbreak, along with severe flooding, has caused the death of more than 100,000 pigs, or close to a quarter of its total population.

Around 72 per cent of households in Timor-Leste keep pigs, while about 600,000 households in the PNG highlands rear nearly 1.8 million pigs, producing some 27,000 tonnes of pig meat annually.

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Jamieson Murphy

Jamieson Murphy

National Rural Affairs reporter

National Rural Affairs reporter, focusing on rural politics and issues. Whisper g'day mate to me at jamieson.murphy@austcommunitymedia.com.au

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