The 90th General Session of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) took place in Paris between 21 and 25 May 2023. It was the first meeting to be held in person since 2019 and brought together representatives from over 180 member countries. Australian Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp led Australia’s 13-member delegation, which contained leaders from across Australian Government and relevant animal industries.
The theme of this year’s General Session was high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI), which was explored through an Animal Health Forum. Hearing about other countries’ experiences with HPAI provided many insights useful to Australia’s preparedness and response planning. A resolution providing WOAH members with recommendations on HPAI was adopted based on the discussions. Key recommendations covered the importance of vaccine stewardship, the consideration of vaccines as a complementary tool, the importance of surveillance and transparency with data sharing, monitoring of circulating strains, and the implementation of WOAH standards.
Outcomes of the vote on draft terrestrial animal health standards aligned with Australia’s objectives. Numerous new or revised chapters were adopted as WOAH standards. Australia opposed the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) chapter and raised the need for stronger measures to manage the risk of FMD spread through contaminated milk. Adoption of this chapter was postponed to allow consideration of further changes. The rabies chapter concerned Australia and its stakeholders. Australia joined likeminded countries to put forward a joint intervention to maintain strong existing measures to detect disease in dogs before they are exported from rabies affected countries. This chapter was only partially adopted. Changes to the articles of concern were excluded for the time being. The adoption of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) chapters was postponed last year following concerns voiced by Australia and other countries. Australia’s advocacy contributed to the most significant of these concerns being resolved. Those chapters were also adopted at this meeting.
Another highlight during the General Session was seeing Wildlife Health Australia (WHA) adopted as a WOAH Collaborating Centre for Wildlife Health Risk Management. Collaborating centres provide scientific expertise and support to WOAH and its members. Australia had two delegation members from WHA at the General Session.
Thank you to all our delegation for their outstanding job. The strength and diversity of the team represented Australia well throughout the event. The next WOAH General Session will take place from 26 to 30 May 2024. This will mark the organisation’s 100-year anniversary.