Preparing Central Asia for future pandemics

It is not new to suggest that regional cooperation in Central Asia holds great potential for the region. It is also not new to recall shared heritage and history, including the famous Silk Road, which connects the countries of Central Asia. And yet, there is a largely overlooked area of ​​cooperation that is of ever-increasing importance and urgency…

A health

Amid the uncertainty surrounding the world today, what remains clear is that outbreaks of zoonotic diseases will continue to occur. Zoonotic diseases (zoonoses) are animal diseases and infections that are transmitted to humans – for example, SARS, Ebola, H1N1 (swine flu), brucellosis and rabies. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) estimates that 60% of existing human infectious diseases are zoonotic, and of the five new human diseases that appear each year, three are of animal origin.

The One Health initiative, while it may seem deceptively simple, is actually a complex effort to bring together people, knowledge, expertise and information to improve the connections between humans, animals and nature. environmental health. This approach stems from the understanding that human and animal health are deeply interconnected and coexist in an ecosystem.

Thanks to One Health, we can identify threats earlier, exchange crucial information and therefore take vital action quickly.

But One Health does not stop there.

The One Health approach can help strengthen systems to support recovery from infectious disease outbreaks. The ripple effects will include improved global public health, sustained economic growth and poverty reduction.

As humans continue to use land irresponsibly, such as neglecting sanitation practices in wet markets for food and agricultural produce, circumventing proper biosecurity in agriculture, and failing to address the threats of climate change, the risks of new zoonotic disease outbreaks, as well as their ripple effects and rapid spread, will likely persist and increase. Add travel, trade and urbanization to this destructive mix, and one could conclude that the fate of mankind is truly bleak.

A region

Located at the crossroads of global value chains, with countries that rely heavily on labor migration, Central Asia is particularly vulnerable. At the same time, Central Asia, and indeed the wider region, is well placed to prevent and combat future epidemics.

This is due to the common epidemiological past of the countries of the former Soviet Union, which once had an elaborate network of plague centers, research institutes and laboratories with trained personnel. As parts of this legacy remain, the region already has an integrated foundation for implementing the One Health approach.

Other characteristics common to Central Asian countries include ecotypes, agro-ecological zones, human and animal population densities, agricultural systems, travel and trade patterns, and existing regional cooperation mechanisms.

One step after another

The One Health approach is a global effort, as it seeks to establish a common platform that houses an interconnected network of institutions, services, laboratories and people capable of sharing knowledge, exchanging information and experiences, learn and work together to ensure timely prevention and detection, response and management of outbreaks.

Getting One Health off the ground in Central Asia will require investment, leadership and commitment from member countries. At the World Bank, we stand ready to support and carry out this initiative.

We have a long history of helping Central Asian countries come together, building on their commonalities and complementarities, to work towards common goals in trade, connectivity, water security, disaster preparedness, climate and other issues.

We also worked with them to strengthen the different systems that would work together under the umbrella of One Health: health care systems, surveillance, livestock, agriculture, climate and environmental protection. Our current portfolio consists of nine relevant projects totaling $886 million.

In addition to emergency operations in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, we are supporting the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to improve their national surveillance systems for infectious disease control. This effort will also prove useful in establishing regional networks to coordinate risk management in the event of cross-border outbreaks.

In the area of ​​livestock and agriculture, we can build on the work already done through initiatives such as the Integrated Dairy Productivity Improvement Project in the Kyrgyz Republic and the Agriculture Sector Development Project. breeding in Uzbekistan.

In both countries, we are helping to address weaknesses in public and private veterinary services to improve animal health. In Kazakhstan, the recently approved results-based sustainable livestock development programme, in addition to strengthening veterinary services, will improve animal traceability and the sustainability of beef value chains.

With more than two decades of involvement in the region, the World Bank is well placed to act as a convener and provide expertise in regional program design and implementation support. This year we adopted a Regional Engagement Framework for Central Asia, the first indicative work program prepared for the region since the Bank opened offices there in the 1990s. local process of deepening economic cooperation in Central Asia and throughout Eurasia.

As viruses cross borders freely, important knowledge, information and action have some catching up to do. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call on the need for improved disease preparedness and surveillance systems to prevent such crises from happening again.

Let’s not hit the snooze button this time.

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