A University of Queensland researcher is helping train ‘animal-diseasedetectives’ to protect animals and humans from the threat of future pandemics.

Associate Professor Joerg Henning is part of the Asia Pacific Consortium ofVeterinary Epidemiology (APCOVE) project, teaching veterinarians and animalepidemiologists in South East Asia how to stop destructive pathogens beforethey spread.

“Countries across the globe are currently being disrupted by devasting animaland human outbreaks, from the COVID-19 pandemic to African swine fever, withthe latter wiping out more than a quarter of the global pig population,” DrHenning said.

“The world is more connected than ever, and with people and goods movingeasily between countries, it’s essential to be well prepared in order to fightcurrent and future outbreaks.

“That’s why we’ve created APCOVE – a project to strengthen the capacity ofveterinarians to detect, respond, control and prevent animal diseaseoutbreaks.

“APCOVE brings together 40 veterinary epidemiologists from around the world,who have collaboratively developed digital and in-person training programs foranimal managers in countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Laos.

“Many countries in this region have been the birth places of zoonotic diseasesand destructive animal diseases that have meant devastation well beyondnational borders.”

Dr Henning said the initiative would not only help save lives, but provideeducation and development opportunities in these growing nations.

He said sharing this knowledge was also in Australia’s national interest.

“As we’ve seen, there’s a significant risk of emerging infectious diseases toAustralia – organisms don’t obey national borders,” Dr Henning said.

“But we should be looking beyond the potential damage from animal-to-humantransmission, as diseases that stay within animal hosts can still doincredible damage to Australian agriculture.

“African swine fever – or ASF – started in just one province of China, butspread to several countries in Southeast Asia within a year, decimating thepig population.

“Australia is at risk from an incursion of ASF, as its virus fragments havebeen detected in more than 200 samples seized by customs agents, mainly inpork products taken from airline passengers and mail centres.

“This disease is now in Timor-Leste, very close to the Australian border, sothere’s an increased risk.

“By having trained animal epidemiologists on the ground in countries likeTimor-Leste, we’re helping lower the risk of these diseases spreading.”

The APCOVE project is built upon the One Health approach, a collaborativeeffort to work across different sectors, such as public health, animal health,plant health and the environment, and on a local, national, and global level,to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment.

Image:Associate Professor Joerg Henning.

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