Governance of Zoonotic Disease Risk

The recent Coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) has reinforced that a One Health (OH) approach to preventing or reducing zoonotic disease risk is at the forefront of global health challenges. It is too early to judge how virulent the virus will prove to be, or might become if it mutates, but its infectiousness and international spread have triggered a World Health Organization (WHO)-declared Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The global response landscape has significantly improved in response to novel infections since the SARS outbreak of 2002/3, with good information flow and reporting of cases by Chinese authorities, albeit not without concerns about their timeliness and accuracy. Significant governance challenges remain with a growing awareness of the importance of a OH approach to respond to emerging infectious threats.

The contemporary human-animal interactions driving zoonotic infection transmission risk are complex and profound, including live ‘wet markets’ and their regulation; growing international trade in wild and exotic animal species; anthropomorphisation of (non-traditional) animals as pets; and shared microbial environments (1). Such interactions are socio-culturally determined, and require, as the research call emphasizes, effective social and policy countermeasures, to which our proposed studies are directed. In addition, no zoonotic infection can be effectively addressed by any one sector alone; rather, it requires collaboration in the policy preparedness and response across multiple sectors, involving disciplines spanning human, animal and environmental sciences, and the social sciences. This transdisciplinary approach to OH is widely acknowledged as necessary for effectively addressing zoonotic infection risk (2).

Practical implementation of the OH approach to the global governance of IDs has proven challenging (3). There are concerns that even those international organizations (WHO, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) currently leading the promotion of the OH approach may be lacking in implementation ability during emergency situations (4). The unfolding COVID-19 outbreak thus presents an opportunity to establish a real-time monitoring infrastructure to study and promote the embedding of OH principles within the national and global governance of infectious diseases (IDs). Employing rapid environmental scan methodology and building on already existing research collaborations, we will produce immediate results focused on the coordination and response systems that can feed into better global governance of COVID-19. The main objective of our proposal is to improve evidence-based decision-making in the public health response to COVID-19, and enhance international collaborative efforts to mitigate its spread using a OH approach.