THE CHALLENGE: Detection of zoonotic disease outbreaks in animal populations prior to spill-over into humans is a critical component of global health security that needs to be strengthened.

THE SOLUTION: Access to high quality data, including zoonotic diseases in animals, is the cornerstone of infectious disease control. The current World Organisation for Animal Health’s (OIE) disease reporting system, World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) already includes a global network of over 200 countries that report data on 116 high impact OIE-listed animal diseases, emerging animal diseases and 34 zoonoses, including anthrax, Rift Valley fever, rabies and highly pathogenic avian influenza. With the development of a new reporting system, WAHIS+, the OIE will incorporate technological innovations to improve the quantity, quality, and versatility of animal health data available globally in real-time.

WAHIS a unique disease reporting tool

In its leading role to improve animal health and welfare worldwide, one of the OIE’s key missions is to ensure transparency in the global animal disease situation through the collection and dissemination of data through WAHIS. This reporting system is based on the OIE’s international standards that have been established by a global consensus and shared vision with the goal of controlling devastating animal diseases, including zoonoses.

Countries are obligated to report to the OIE via WAHIS in three ways: immediate notifications, six-monthly reports, and annual reports. Through the immediate notifications, countries are obligated to report disease events within 24 hours after detection. Importantly, the epidemiological data are made publically available in less than 24 hours after receipt of the report, through cell phone alerts, RSS feeds and posting on a publically available website, WAHIS Interface. The spatial and temporal changes in the disease event are tracked until the disease is controlled or eliminated.

Data are also received twice a year from each country via the six monthly reports. These data include the presence or absence, number of animals affected, and the measures used to control each high impact or zoonotic disease within the animal population within each country for all OIE listed diseases. Data concerning zoonotic diseases in the human population, a census of the veterinary services personnel, diagnostic labs, diagnostic tests and vaccine production for each country are received annually.

Finally, reports on 53 additional wildlife diseases are voluntarily submitted annually and include data on the occurrence of many viral pathogens, such as Hendra viruses, pox viruses and flaviviruses, of particular importance due to the potential for emergence of new diseases in wildlife populations.

All data are curated to ensure high quality and then made publically available. Given this wealth of information, academicians, national policy officers and numerous other stakeholders regularly access WAHIS to develop and monitor disease eradication programs, conduct risk assessment, inform policy decision-making and facilitate safe trade.

WAHIS+ will include new technologies to meet societal changes and demands of the future

The OIE has launched an ambitious project to develop WAHIS+ with increased functions and a stronger reporting network. First, the needs of a broad array of stakeholders, including representatives from each Member Country, international and regional organisations, researchers, private and trade sector representatives, and commodity associations were determined through direct consultation and surveys. High priority functions foreseen include a quicker and more intuitive system with the ability to mine and download data, customize data queries, and visualize temporal and spatial data. Genome sequence data linked to epidemiological data will improve disease traceability and strengthen our understanding of disease emergence.

In an interconnected world, the vulnerabilities that exist in one country represent vulnerability for all countries. In order to strengthen the overall network, WAHIS+ will be linked with other databases, particularly those focused on human health. This will allow for an improved One Health approach to risk assessment, resource allocation and disease prevention and control. Additionally, the option for direct communication between WAHIS+ and national/regional databases will reduce costs and improve disease reporting capacity. These regional initiatives are underway in Europe, Africa and Asia.

The OIE’s mission is focused on improving animal health. However, animal health and human health are closely linked and early disease detection in animal populations is essential to prevent the spread of emerging diseases and zoonotic diseases into human populations. WAHIS+ will be a step forward in improving global health security.