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Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, United Nations Resident Coordinator at the 3rd National One Health Conference infectious disease risks at the human-animal-ecosystem interface in Viet Nam

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Speaker: Ms. Pratibha Mehta, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date: Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Event: 3rd National One Health Conference infectious disease risks at the human-animal-ecosystem interface in Viet Nam
Venue: Sheraton Hotel, Ha Noi    

Your Excellency, Mr. Vu Van Tam, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
Your Excellency, Dr. Nguyen Thanh Long, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Health
Your Excellency, Mr. Ted Osius, US Ambassador to Viet Nam,

Distinguished government representatives,

Distinguished colleagues representing development partners, academies, research and international non-government organizations

Colleagues from the UN,

Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.  With the New Year upon us, I would like to join my colleagues in wishing you a happy and healthy 2015.  Chúc Mừng Năm Mới.

I am very pleased to join the Vice-Ministers and the Ambassador in warmly welcoming you to today’s conference that builds on UN’s long-standing partnership with MARD and MOH and further advances Viet Nam’s One Health agenda.

I would like to thank Vice-Minister Tam and Vice-Minister Long for their leadership, and the leadership of MARD and MOH, in guiding Viet Nam’s response to emerging infectious diseases, which also prevents serious economic losses and protects Viet Nam’s overall development achievements.

The UN in Viet Nam is pleased to continue our longstanding efforts, together with MARD, MOH, US Government and other partners to strengthen joint prevention, preparedness and response, institutional mechanisms and One Health capacity in Viet Nam.

Viet Nam is located in one of five global “hot spots” with a significantly heightened risk for the emergence of new zoonotic  diseases due to the close contact and high density of people and animals.

Increasing regional demand for wildlife and wildlife products also contributes to unregulated capture, farming, and trade activities that present risks for unsafe consumption or contact between different wild animal species, livestock, and humans.

Furthermore, rapid socio-economic development can place a strain on natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystems. Combined with a changing climate this calls for countries to strengthen their systems to identify disease drivers and detect risks that emerge from ecological system disruptions.

Novel strains of influenza, such as H7N9 detected in China, are affecting humans and the poultry industry. Despite transparency in reporting disease and a significant response in China in 2014, the H7N9 virus which only makes people sick, has resulted in the estimated losses of more than 26 billion USD in China due to the impacts on poultry consumption, trade, and production. It is important to note that this cost does not take into consideration, impacts on tourism or medical care and treatment costs for people who became infected by this virus.

To address such health and economic threats, we have seen that One Health action is happening on the ground, with information exchange and coordinated response at the human-animal interface, evidenced by adoption of the Joint Circular 16 by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) in 2013.
Viet Nam has shown great leadership and rapid action responding to, or preparing for serious zoonotic infectious diseases such as avian influenza H5N1 and H7N9, and Ebola virus disease. The country has strengthened its ability to detect, assess, and respond to emerging infectious diseases and other public health threats. As a result, in 2014, Viet Nam achieved core capacity required to implement obligations of the International Health Regulations, and we would like to sincerely congratulate on this milestone accomplishment.

At the same time, we expect Viet Nam will further strengthen the capacity, and provide a role model for the other countries in our region. Close coordination to address zoonosis, between animal health and human health sectors, is among the focus areas of Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases, and also the area where Viet Nam could demonstrate successful example, based on strong commitment shown by Government leaders and partners in this room.  

We could also learn from other countries in the region, such as Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand, which have already set a high standard by adopting inclusive One Health approaches aimed at promoting improved health of people, livestock, wildlife and environment. One Health has helped these nations better prevent, prepare, and respond effectively to emerging infectious zoonotic diseases. With significant experience and strong political leadership, Viet Nam can certainly become a regional leader by demonstrating One Health in action through development of a One Health action plan and an effective coordination mechanism. This would complement the extensive One Health activities already taking place at local level such as joint sector response to rabies cases, H5N1 HPAI outbreak, and H7N9 influenza joint risk assessments.

There have been successful examples of collaboration across sectors for national and global initiatives. The global Zero Hunger Challenge launched at national level last month by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dũng along with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Cao Duc Phat, symbolized the Government of Viet Nam's commitment to achieving Zero Hunger by 2025 calling for all sectors to join forces.

The UN is very supportive of the on-going work and reflection undertaken by the Government of Viet Nam on enhancing institutional mechanisms in place to respond to emerging zoonotic diseases.

To advance the One Health Agenda, I would like to highlight three key areas that are important to consider.

First, improving coordination to avoid overlap, ensure timely action, and reducing bottlenecks for better-coordinated prevention, preparedness planning and response. I commend the current human and animal health sectors efforts through the respective national steering committees but also support consideration as to how a One Health coordination mechanism can improve upon the achievements and lessons learned over the past decade.

Second, traditionally, Viet Nam has considered One Health within the context of primarily the human and animal health sectors. The understanding of  the drivers of emerging zoonotic diseases suggest the adoption of a multi-disciplinary approach in One Health, with active engagement of  natural resource management, ecosystem health, and development planning sectors.  Building on the successful track record of the Pandemic Avian and Human Influenza partnership, we look forward to its revision into a One Health partnership.

Third, it is necessary to move ahead with clearly defining strategic goals through a roadmap and an action plan for the implementation of One Health in Viet Nam in the upcoming period beyond 2015. This is particularly relevant at this point in time as the Vietnam Integrated National Operational Program on Avian Influenza, Pandemic Preparedness and Emerging Infectious Diseases (AIPED) comes to a close at the end of 2015.

In closing, I would like to underscore Viet Nam’s great success in combatting emerging zoonotic disease such as SARS and H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in past years but there is more work to be done. As next steps for One Health, we need to put in place an appropriate coordination mechanism and an action plan that addresses important zoonotic diseases. The One Health approach will help to protect the health of Vietnamese people, livestock, wildlife and ecosystems for sustainable development in Viet Nam.

Thank you.