Veterinary public health (VPH)

What is Veterinary Public Health?

Veterinary Public Health (VPH) was defined by the WHO consultation on "future trends in veterinary public health" held in Teramo, Italy in 1999 as "the sum of all contributions to the physical, mental and social well-being of humans through an understanding and application of veterinary science".

Human health is inextricably linked to animal health and production. This link between human and animal populations, and with the surrounding environment, is particularly close in developing regions where animals provide transportation, draught power, fuel and clothing as well as proteins (meat, eggs and milk). In both developing and industrialized countries, however, this can lead to a serious risk to public health with severe economic consequences. A number of communicable diseases (known as zoonoses) are transmitted from animals to humans. Veterinary medicine has a long and distinguished history of contributing to the maintenance and promotion of public health.

Zoonoses and public health

About 75% of the new diseases that have affected humans over the past 10 years have been caused by pathogens originating from an animal or from products of animal origin. Many of these diseases have the potential to spread through various means over long distances and to become global problems.

In addition a number of well known and preventable animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans (i.e. zoonoses) such as rabies, brucellosis, leishmaniasis and echinococcosis continue to occur in many countries especially in the developing world where they mostly affect the poorest segment of the human population. They cause a serious amount of deaths and millions of affected people every year.

All major zoonotic diseases prevent the efficient production of food of animal origin, particularly of much-needed proteins, and create obstacles to international trade in animals and animal products. They are thus an impediment to overall socioeconomic development. From way back veterinary medicine played a major role in the preventing of and interventions against animal diseases including zoonoses.

Core domains

The core domains of VPH include the following: diagnosis, surveillance, epidemiology, control, prevention and elimination of zoonoses; food protection; management of health aspects of laboratory animal facilities and diagnostic laboratories; biomedical research; health education and extension; and production and control of biological products and medical devices. Other VPH core domains may include management of domestic and wild animal populations, protection of drinking-water and the environment, and management of public health emergencies.

Veterinary public health is an essential part of public health and includes various types of cooperation between the disciplines that link the health triad, people-animals-environment, and all of its interactions.

The role of WHO

VPH activities contribute to WHO's global efforts to strengthen the surveillance of and response to all communicable diseases which are or may emerge as public health threats. In collaboration with its Regional Offices, WHO supports Member States in the surveillance and containment in humans and animals of zoonoses and foodborne zoonotic diseases of public health importance, and animal diseases with known or potential public health implications; and in the surveillance and containment of resistance to antimicrobial agents in animals, with implications for human medicine. VPH activities are currently implemented by WHO Headquarters through the Department of Communicable Diseases Control, Prevention and Eradication (CPE) in close collaboration with the Food Safety programme. Focal points exist in all WHO Regional Offices. By its very nature, the VPH programme in WHO has been closely linked with various aspects of the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in relation to zoonoses, food safety, and the public health aspects of trade in animals and animal products. There is also much collaboration with WHO collaborating centres, other universities, research centres and institutions.

  • Identifying and evaluating microbiological hazards to human health of animal origin: new, emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases, and foodborne diseases, including those due to antimicrobial resistant bacteria.
  • Developing policies, guidelines, operational research and strategies for the control of zoonotic and foodborne diseases.
  • Promoting research on zoonotic and foodborne diseases and their management in humans.
  • Strengthening global surveillance of zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance in foodborne pathogens by enhancing the epidemiological capabilities of national laboratories.
  • Disseminating relevant information to experts in public health, veterinary science and other scientific disciplines, as well as to consumer groups and the public.
  • Contributing to field and laboratory investigations of zoonotic and foodborne diseases.
  • Facilitating active contributions to public health by the veterinary services of Member States, an essential requirement for the cost-effective surveillance and control of zoonotic and foodborne diseases in their animal hosts.
  • Providing technical and scientific assistance to Member States for their surveillance and control programmes, when requested.
  • Supervising the work of the Mediterranean Zoonoses Control Programme (MZCP). Click here to learn more about the MZCP.

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