Effective national surveillance of animal diseases in Australia requires cooperative partnerships among government agencies, livestock and wildlife organisations, commercial companies and individuals involved in animal industries.
Under the Australian constitution, the Australian Government is responsible for quarantine and international animal health matters, including disease surveillance reporting to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), export certification and trade negotiation. State and territory governments are responsible for animal health services, including disease surveillance, investigation and diagnostic services, and reporting of diseases, within their respective borders (jurisdictions). They deliver their services through government-appointed or government-accredited animal health personnel – district veterinarians, regional veterinary officers and local biosecurity officers. In some cases, private veterinarians are contracted to the government to investigate suspect notifiable diseases. In all states and territories, official government veterinarians establish relationships with private veterinarians in their districts to allow effective collaboration during investigation of unusual disease incidents. National decision making and coordination for animal disease surveillance occurs through the Animal Health Committee (AHC).
AHA works with its members to maintain Australian freedom from exotic animal disease, improve animal health and market access, and foster the resilience and integrity of the Australian animal health system. Surveillance is key to meeting these goals as it enables prompt detection of disease outbreaks and publication of credible national reports on the health status of livestock and their products. Credible reports support policy development, decision making and trade. A requirement for evidence of disease absence is overtaking acceptance of absence of disease evidence.
In 2016, the Animal Health Committee endorsed the National Animal Health Surveillance and Diagnostics Business Plan 2016–2019, developed collaboratively by governments and livestock industries. The Business Plan is intended to guide the efficient and effective delivery of surveillance activities in accordance with nationally agreed objectives and priorities. It outlines priority activities that build on existing strengths and address areas for improvement in Australia’s animal health surveillance and diagnostics system.
AHA members have elected for AHA to deliver several disease surveillance and monitoring programs and the National Animal Health Information System. Each program is managed in consultation with a steering and/or advisory committee which often includes service delivery coordinators from state and territory governments and Wildlife Health Australia. In addition to program management, AHA contributes to national surveillance enhancement through participation in several national projects and working groups.
Programs and projects include:
- The National Significant Disease Investigation (NSDI) Program subsidises training of private veterinary practitioners in disease investigation and subsidises private veterinary practitioners to investigate significant disease incidents in livestock and wildlife.
- The Surveillance Smartphone App Project is a collaboration of Animal Health Australia and the Australian Veterinary Association aimed at enhancing disease surveillance and building stronger networks between private veterinary practitioners and livestock producers. A trial is funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as an investment within the Northern Australia Biosecurity Framework.
- The APL Evidence of Absence – Exotic Disease Project aims to deliver exotic disease exclusion information for pig disease events through routine disease investigations undertaken by pig vets
Targeted surveillance and monitoring
- The National Arbovirus Monitoring Program (NAMP) monitors the distribution of economically important arboviruses (insect-borne viruses) of ruminant livestock and associated insect vectors in Australia.
- The National Sheep Health Monitoring Project monitors abattoir data for sheep health conditions that reduce farm profit through productivity losses or meat processing wastage.
- The National Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Surveillance Project demonstrates Australia’s ability to meet the requirements for a BSE negligible-risk and classical scrapie-free country, and provide early detection of these diseases should they occur.
- The Screw-worm Fly Freedom Assurance Program includes surveillance and associated enabling activities to detect a SWF incursion early enough to ensure a high likelihood of success of an eradication program.
National Animal Health Information System (NAHIS)
The NAHIS is a web-based database management system enabling online submission to discrete data projects, automation of data analysis and summary, and provision of customised output reports. A subset of jurisdiction-held disease investigation data are collated nationally in NAHIS.