Insights from our secondees to the World Organisation for Animal Health

28 Mar 2024

As economies around the globe becoming increasingly interconnected, nations are enjoying greater prosperity through increased agricultural trade. Modern technology has allowed huge volumes of goods to be quickly transported around the globe. However, as we all enjoy these benefits, we also face the increasing threats of the transboundary animal diseases that potentially come with it.

Australia has a robust animal health system and biosecurity measures which have been effective in preventing the incursion of transboundary animal diseases - like foot-and-mouth disease, however reducing the global risks requires global coordination. As Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, I am also Australia’s Delegate to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

The Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer coordinates Australia’s work and activities with WOAH, drawing on the expertise of other Australian government departments and agencies, industry bodies and other experts on the issues under consideration. We have also previously seconded several staff to support the multilateral coordination activities of WOAH.

These secondments have aided the small but dedicated teams at WOAH in their objectives which in turn contributes to the organisations’ mandate in controlling and eliminating transboundary animal diseases. Australia also gains valuable insights and experience from our secondees, which strengthens our relationship with WOAH and other member countries. Two of our recent secondees have shared the following insight into their time working at WOAH in Paris.

Image: Luke York, Katherine Gregory and Melanie Allan in Paris. Photo courtesy DAFF-DFAT.

Katherine Gregory

“I was seconded into WOAH’s Observatory program, which was established to monitor the implementation of WOAH’s international standards for animal health and welfare. These standards are used by many countries and territories to control the spread of disease and facilitate the safe international trade of animals and animal commodities.”

“I contributed to the publication of the Observatory’s first monitoring report. This was developed by analysing data collected by WOAH and its partners, to provide an overview of standards implementation for a variety of topics. I also worked on three Observatory thematic studies, which collect and analyse new data about topics of particular interest. A report from the first of these studies, about the implementation of zoning for avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever, was recently published in January 2024.”

“The insights provided by the Observatory support WOAH to improve its standard setting process, capacity building activities and internal procedures regarding data collection and management; and provide recommendations for Members about areas for improvement.”

“Noting Australia’s favourable health status for many significant animal diseases, it is in our interest for the global community to improve the control of transboundary animal diseases that threaten to spread to Australia; and for our trading partners to implement appropriate measures that minimise the risks involved with importing animals and their commodities into Australia.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at WOAH. Through my work in the Observatory program, I worked with amazing staff from across the organisation, from all parts of the world. It was valuable to obtain a greater understanding of the work conducted by the organisation, its relevance to Australia, and how much can be achieved by a relatively small number of dedicated and capable staff. Now that my secondment has concluded, I look forward to applying my insights into WOAH and using the professional networks I’ve developed in my work.”

Image: Katherine Gregory, Luke York and Melanie Allan with former ACVO Mark Schipp at 2023 WOAH General Session. Photo courtesy DAFF-DFAT.

Luke York

“During my secondment, I led the development of WOAH's approach for an external and independent review of its foundational documents – referred to as the Basic Texts. These texts have served as the fundamental framework for WOAH activities and governance over the past 100 years. The world is witnessing rapid transformations in agriculture, trade patterns, and disease dynamics. Governance structures and arrangements must be able to meet the challenges of the future.”

“As part of this initiative, I was lucky enough to work with a broad range of WOAH’s program areas and Members to better understand the current challenges faced by the organisation. The results from this work will be presented at WOAH’s World Assembly of Delegates in May 2024 where Members will decide on the future direction.”

“I also supported WOAH in negotiations of the Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response Accord (the Pandemic treaty). My role focused on working with technical teams within WOAH, legal experts, and members of the Quadripartite (i.e. WOAH, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization, and United Nations Environment Programme) to encourage the integration of One Health principles and approaches into the Treaty. Integration of a One Health approach recognises the connection between animal, human, and environmental health in preventing and mitigating future pandemics.”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my secondment to WOAH as it was an invaluable opportunity to help shape the future of animal health and welfare globally. This is particularly important as the approaches and decisions at the international level ultimately impact Australia’s biosecurity, trade, and agriculture sector. The experience underscores the importance of our active involvement in international initiatives to safeguard our nation's interests and advance global standards in animal health for the benefit of all.

WOAH’s World Assembly of Delegates 2024

I thank the secondees, Katherine, Luke and also Melanie Allan for their contribution to strengthening Australia’s relationship with WOAH. Australia has always been an active contributor to WOAH and I look forward to supporting this engagement when leading the Australian delegation to the 91st WOAH General Session in late May. Held in Paris, the event will celebrate the organisation’s centenary. Global Delegates will vote on matters like international animal health and welfare standards, and elections will also take place for WOAH technical and leadership roles, including the important position of Director General. Our attendance is important to influence decisions that align with Australia’s interests.

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.