Australia’s engagement on animal health in the Indo-Pacific

07 Mar 2024

As Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, I’m a strong champion for Australia's engagement with our Indo-Pacific partners, and my office undertakes a range of activities that are strengthening animal health, production, welfare, and biosecurity in our shared region.

The Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer (OCVO) places a strong emphasis on growing Australia's regional engagement with our near neighbours and Pacific partners. Over the past two decades our Offshore Program has developed a close cooperative relationship with Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor-Leste on matters relating to biosecurity.


The beginning of 2024 has been a busy time for my office, with officers travelling to Timor-Leste to help with a large-scale canine rabies vaccination program. With rabies entering neighbouring West Timor, Indonesia for the first time in May 2023, the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Forestry (MALFF) is leading a pre-emptive dogs vaccination program across the border areas of Cova Lima, Bobonaro, Oecusse as well as the capital, Dili to keep the country rabies-free.

With funding, planning and on the ground support from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and rabies vaccines donated by the Australian government, the field teams have been well received in communities and are well on the way to achieving their targeted 70% vaccination rate in dogs. 

Puppy being vaccinated at the pop-up rabies vaccination clinic in Dili. Image DAFF.

With the rabies vaccination program in full swing, my office partnered with CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) in January to bring in-country rabies diagnostic capability to Timor-Leste. Over an intensive two-day practical course in Dili, an ACDP pathologist trained a team of MALFF and DAFF veterinarians and laboratory technician team how to safely take samples in the field and test for rabies using rapid field test kits, to bolster rapid disease detection and response.

Papua New Guinea

Towards the end of 2023 my office continued its work with PNG to reduce animal biosecurity risk across the region. A multi-disciplinary DAFF team with expertise in animal, plant and border biosecurity was invited by the National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority (NAQIA) to collaborate on an assessment of the training needs of PNG’s frontline border quarantine officers.

The team visited the airport, sea-port, mail and cargo facilities in Port Moresby with a focus on quarantine and inspection opportunities. With expertise from DAFF’s Biosecurity Training Centre (BTC) the team is now designing an induction training course for NAQIA’s frontline biosecurity officers.

DAFF and NAQIA officers at the Port Moresby cargo centre. Image DAFF.

In November, NAQIA and DAFF officers continued their work together to establish an early warning system for animal disease in PNG’s Western Province. They met with village rangers from 40 locations across Western Province to share information about animal diseases like foot-and-mouth disease, avian influenza and African swine fever.

The team also trained the rangers to report any changes in the health of village animals to NAQIA using their mobile phone-based National Animal Health information System. This collaboration between NAQIA and village rangers acts as an early warning system for disease incursions in a key area for both PNG and Australia, with the close cultural connections between PNG’s Treaty Villages and the Torres Strait.

Village rangers from PNG’s Western Province training with NAQIA and DAFF as part of an early warning system for animal disease. Image DAFF.

Pacific Engagement

Since 2021 we have built on the success of the Offshore Program with establishment of the Pacific Engagement Program for Animal Health (PEPAH), which works with regional partners to collaboratively strengthen animal health, production, welfare, and biosecurity in Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs).

Regional decision-making networks play a pivotal role in identifying and actioning Pacific priorities for strengthening animal health and biosecurity. The Pacific Heads of Veterinary and Animal Production Services (PHOVAPS) Network is the Pacific's key decision-making structure on matters relating to regional animal health, production, welfare, and biosecurity, and provides the major avenue for Pacific-wide coordination on these matters. 

In 2023 my office worked closely with the Pacific Community (SPC), which manages the PHOVAPS Secretariat, to relaunch the PHOVAPS Network and to support the first face-to-face meeting of this group since 2006. With a membership including all 22 PICTs and key technical partners such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), PHOVAPS will play an increasingly important role in ensuring Pacific priorities are collaboratively translated into the sustainable growth of regional capacity, increased regional stability and prosperity, and strengthened food and nutrition security in the Indo-Pacific.

Delegates at the 2023 meeting of the Pacific Heads of Veterinary and Animal Production Services (PHOVAPS) Network in Nadi, Fiji. Image source: SPC.

In my role, I am both Australia's PHOVAPS focal point and sit on the PHOVAPS Council with my New Zealand counterpart, Dr Mary van Andel, and representatives from the Pacific's three sub-regions. My office continues to provide funding, strategic, and technical support to the PHOVAPS Council and secretariat, in close coordination with the NZ CVO, as we collectively work to deliver the PHOVAPS workplan for 2024-25 and to prepare for the 2024 meeting.

Building Paraveterinary Capacity

There is a long-standing and chronic shortage of qualified veterinarians across the Pacific region, which arises from geographic isolation, limited educational opportunities, and economic conditions. As a result, paraveterinarians are the Pacific's frontline workforce with responsibility for enhancing animal production and biosecurity. Increasing paraveterinary capacity is a key priority identified by the PHOVAPS network, and endorsed at the Pacific Week of Agriculture and Forestry in 2023.

Paraveterinarians undertaking disease surveillance activities in Solomon Islands. Image – DAFF.

Collaboration is key to supporting sustainable development and capacity building in the Pacific, and my office is working closely with our Pacific partners to grow paraveterinary capacity across our region. Twenty-three paraveterinarians in Solomon Islands have just graduated from training delivered as a partnership between SPC, PEPAH, New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries, and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as part of a program being rolled-out in countries across our region.

These additions to the paraveterinary workforce will ensure there are qualified practitioners engaging with farmers, undertaking day-to-day animal health field work, and conducting animal disease surveillance and disease management where necessary, improving food security and health outcomes across sectors.

Graduation day for officers from Solomon Islands Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, following completion of the paraveterinary training course run in partnership with SPC, PEPAH, MPI and DFAT. Image – DAFF.

Collectively these activities are a vital component of Australia's engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, where we are collaborating with our multilateral and bilateral partners to strengthen biosecurity, food security, livelihoods and public health outcomes in our region.

For the latest updates on the work of the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer, please follow the social media channels of the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer on Twitter/X and LinkedIn.