UK Government

Department For International Development: New initiative to prevent ‘next global pandemic’

Press Release   •   Dec 11, 2009 11:18 GMT

DFID targets hotspots for spread of animal-to-human diseases

The Department for International Development (DFID) is tomorrow (11 December) bringing together vets, virologists, academics and other experts in animal-to-human diseases in order to identify hotspots where the next global pandemic is most likely to come from and how best to prevent it emerging or spreading.

Over sixty per cent of diseases that affect humans are of animal origin, including bird flu, swine flu and ebola, as well as more established diseases like rabies and tuberculosis. Experts are predicting that the next global pandemic will be a disease of this type.

The risk from new and existing animal-to-human diseases is increased by recent global changes including:

  • increasing demand for livestock and a shift in livestock production to countries where people and animals live more closely together;
  • rapid growth in tourism and cheaper global travel;
  • the impact of climate change, which means that disease-carrying insects like Tsetse flies and midges can move into newly warm areas;
  • other changes affecting local conditions, including alterations to trade, temperature, humidity, livestock markets, and other social and environmental factors.

In response to these developing risks, tomorrow’s event will look to identify the most likely hotspots around the world for the emergence of new animal-to-human diseases – known as zoonoses - and examine how best to address them. Experts will identify countries and regions where the combination of risk factors creates likely hotspots, and will make these findings available to decision makers in the international community, NGOs and country governments to help them decide where and how to focus their resources to minimise these risks.

International Development Minister Mike Foster said:

“Our worst fears haven’t yet come true, but all the experts agree that there’s a clear and immediate risk that the next animal-to-human disease to emerge will cause death on a massive scale. Such a pandemic would disrupt social order, strain economies, and rapidly overwhelm national health care systems, with devastating effects on human health.

“This event is an important step in determining where the next pandemic is most likely to come from in order to provide the information decision makers need if they are to stop these diseases from emerging in the first place, or from spreading if they do emerge.”

At the DFID-organised event taking place tomorrow, speakers will address a number of key areas. These will include sessions to better understand the global and local spread of disease, focussing on the factors that increase risk and create hotspots; the economics and cost-factors of these zoonotic diseases; changing livestock management systems and the impact that these changes are having; and looking at what policy decisions countries could make in order to tackle the emergence and spread of animal-to-human diseases.

Notes to editors

  • The World Bank estimates that the economic losses associated with a severe pandemic along the lines of avian influenza alone could exceed US$3 trillion, and the direct cost of outbreaks of animal-to-human diseases over the last decade already exceeds US$20 billion. Diseases have inflicted enormous economic losses that have upset regional and international trade and market development as well as undermining the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers and the ability of smallholder entrepreneurs to manage risk.
  • A particularly virulent form of H1N1 (‘swine flu’) caused the pandemic of 1918-1919, and led to the deaths of between 50 and 100 million people. It has been estimated that a mutation or reassortment (a mixing of similar viruses) of the related H5N1 (‘bird flu’) virus into a relatively “mild” pandemic form could lead to the deaths of 1.4 million people worldwide.
  • More than 70 percent of emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases originate in the livestock sector. Given the number of confirmed cases of animal-to-human transmission of
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