Zoonoses and foodborne diseases of animal origin are known to cause public health and socio-economic problems of considerable magnitude in most countries of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, where they sharevery similar adverse epidemiological conditions. The more important among them include brucellosis, echinococcosis, leishmaniasis, rabies and haemorrhagic fever.
The close contact of a large part of the human population with animals, plus the increased consumption of animal products, unpasteurized milk and dairy products,the intensification of animal production and an international trade inanimals and their products,the presence of stray animals,multiplication of viral and parasitic vectors, illegal slaughtering of food animals and inappropriate waste disposal practices, are the main factors responsible for the endemicity, emergence and re-emergence of zoonotic infections world-wide,butparticularly within the countries of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions.
Zoonoses,because of their complex characteristics, cannot be addressed by one sector alone, whetherit be forpublic health or animal health. Success dependsgreatly on the level of collaboration between the inter-related sectors regardingall aspects and needs.Essential elements to reaching such targets include the timely exchange of information on disease emergence and prevalence among countries, effective surveillance systems, solid intersectoral collaboration, close collaboration with international organizations for their technical assistance, etc.
Creation of the MZCP
This situation was first addressed by the World Health Organization (WHO)member states at the 31st World Health Assembly held in 1978. A resolution on the Prevention and Control of Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases due to Animal Products was then endorsed. Following this resolution, WHO created the Mediterranean Zoonoses Control Program (MZCP), while for the co-ordination and implementation of its activities, the Mediterranean Zoonoses Control Centre (MZCC) was established in 1979 in Athens, Greece.
MZCP is a WHO-directed and supervised inter-regional (Europe, Mediterranean and Middle East) program, working closely with specialized WHO, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO; Rome)and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE; Paris)collaborating centers and the MZCP network of national participating institutions. Moreover, it maintains close collaboration with FAO and OIE (Paris and its regional representation in Beirut, Lebanon).
Objectives of the ProgramThe main objectives of the program are to foster, both at national and inter-regional levels, programs and activities for the prevention, surveillance and control of zoonoses and FBDs as an integral part of national public health programs, to strengthen the collaboration between national animal health and public health services and other inter-related sectors, and to foster co-operation among member states.
In order to approach its objectives, the program, through its co-ordinating centerin Athens, provides knowledge and skills on:
- epidemiological surveillance, preparedness and response to endemic major zoonoses and emerging/re-emerging zoonoses FBDs prevention and control food safety and HACCP systems environmental and occupational health development public health education and community participation.The MZCP/Joint Co-ordinating Committee
MZCP is governed by its Joint Co-ordinating Committee,comprising representatives of the member states and WHO. The Committee meets every 2years to review the activities implemented during the previous period, endorse the plan of work for the next 2 years,and agree the estimated budget. The operation of the programis based on rules provided by its statutes,and its activities rely mostly on the annual financial contribution (USD 20,000) of the participating countries,hospitalities offered bycollaborating institutions and the generous contribution of its technical collaborators.
Participating and Associated Countries
Participating countries are Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Syria and Turkey. Countries associated with the program are Algeria, Bulgaria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia.
Activities of the MZCP
Human resource development and capacity building are included among the major MZCP objectives.In this regard, two main categories of educational activities are provided:
- inter-country training courses on high-priority regional subjects
- national training courses on subjects selected by the member countries, in the context of their own priorities.
All activities respect the intersectoral principles through the participation of all parties involved in joint public health and animal health programs.
Strengthening the capability of the sectors involved in zoonoses, FBDs, food safety, emergencies, environment, public health education and others among its member countries, it is expected that their profiles and capabilitieswill gradually improveby acquiring updated knowledge and training.
Following 33 years of continuous operation, the MZCP has acquired intercountry confidence and credibility. These achievements, in connection withinternational epidemiological pressure regarding emerging and re-emerging zoonotic and FBDs, have earned the MZCPrecognitionas the mostappropriate tool forimmediate use in an integrated effort with FAO and OIE for common high-priority activities.
In this context, the scopefor the development of a new, upgraded and expanded inter-regional program and the establishment in Athens of a joint upgraded co-ordination office is presently under negotiation between the interested parties. Such developments will refer to the creation of an expanded educational agency, approaching, in a more instrumental and effective way, its objectives as presently defined and those that areexpected when it is developed further.
The experience accumulated over the years has ledto the following conclusions.Close collaboration among countries, supported by international technical co-operation, is essential.
- Intersectoral collaboration and co-ordination are of paramount importance for all countries, in all aspects.
- The MZCP activities providesources of updated informatio, and specific guidance for appropriate approaches toproblems created by zoonoses and related FBDs.
- Human resource development and capacity building is a major objective to be met.
- The current important international orientation towards integrated working at the human-animal interface and their ecosystems, to prevent or contain epidemics from zoonotic and FBDsearly, has been th practice for MZCP since its establishment by WHO 33 years ago. This proves that the MZCP wasahead of its tims in relation to receny relevant concepts promoted by international organizations and other agencies.
A.Seimenis, DVM, PhD, Inter-Country Program Co-ordinator and Director, WHO/Mediterranean Zoonoses Control Center