Covid-19
The WHO estimates that 60 percent of known infectious diseases and up to 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Kenya is now facing a high risk of disease outbreaks transmitted from animals to humans.

According to the international health agency, this follows a 63 percent rise in animal to human disease transmission across Africa in the last 10 years.

The analysis by WHO finds that between 2001 and 2022 there were 1,843 substantiated public health events recorded in the WHO African region, and 30 percent were zoonotic disease outbreaks.

Similarly, there was a spike in 2019 and 2020 when zoonotic pathogens represented around 50 percent of public health events with dengue fever, anthrax, plague, monkeypox, and a range of other diseases making up 30 percent of the events.

“Zoonotic diseases are caused by spillover events from animals to humans. Only when we break down the walls between disciplines can we tackle all aspects of the response.”

WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the high risk is attributed to the growing demand for food derived from animals such as meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, coupled with the phenomenon of poor infrastructure which normally act as a natural barrier to the spread of diseases.

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The WHO also warned that the improved transportation system is likely to increase the threat of zoonotic pathogens.

Traveling to urban areas, Dr Moeti added, increases human activities that disrupt ecosystems, encroach on habitats, and further drive climate change.

“Road, rail, boat, and air links are also improving across Africa, increasing the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks spreading from remote areas where there are few inhabitants to large urban areas,” Dr Moeti said.

So far, the most recent infectious disease outbreaks including Covid-19, which has caused adverse effects across the globe, dengue fever, anthrax, Ebola, SARS, MERS, HIV, and Rift Valley fever, were caused by pathogens that originated from animals.

The WHO is now calling for more research to identify environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural factors that boost the emergence and transmission of epidemic-prone diseases and to understand the factors that affect the impact and spread of epidemics, including the immune status, and nutrition, genetic and antimicrobial resistance.

The agency also recommends a routine disease surveillance information and response activities for both animal and human health should be shared among epidemiologists and other public health experts.

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