South Asia Regional One Health Symposium: Summary

South Asia Regional One Health Symposium Paro, Bhutan, 2–6 December 2013: The South Asia Regional One Health Symposium was held in the beautiful Paro Valley in Bhutan from 2–6 December 2013, and was a most successful and memorable event hosted by the Royal Government of Bhutan. The Symposium concluded the four-year One Health Regional Training Programme on Epidemiology and Biosecurity for South Asia, funded by the European Commission through the Avian and Human Influenza Trust Fund administered by the World Bank, and implemented by Massey University, New Zealand.

The Symposium was attended by 120 human health and animal health technical experts and senior government decision makers from India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Representatives from the European Union and the World Bank, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Animal Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) also participated, as did the Vice Chancellor of Massey University, the Honourable Steve Maharey, and the New Zealand High Commissioner in Delhi, Mrs Jan Henderson.

The Symposium was opened by His Excellency Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, the Honourable Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs in Bhutan who delivered the inaugural address, emphasising the importance of concentrating on zoonotic and emerging diseases across the South Asia Region, praising the work done through this program in building an effective network of animal and human health experts and increasing the capacity of government institutions to respond to and manage the occurrence of important zoonotic diseases, and thanking the donor (the European Union) for their support.

Summaries of Symposium activities each day are available here and included the following highlights.

Collaborative investigation project results

Presentations of the findings and recommendations of the eleven collaborative investigation projects implemented during the previous two years of the programme show-cased the hard work of project teams, the epidemiological understanding gained through the projects.

A very notable feature of the projects was the successful collaboration between human and animal health institutions and government sectors involved, and in some cases between government and non-government organisations. A key outcome was the strengthening of cross-sectoral relationships and the groundwork laid for further collaboration in future projects and investigations.

These in-depth projects contributed to understanding the epidemiology of zoonotic diseases in both human and animal populations in the region, including rabies, brucellosis, leptospirosis, anthrax, Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever, Q fever and an evaluation of One Health collaboration in Bhutan.

Mysteria: a simulated disease outbreak investigation

A key part of the Symposium was a two-day simulation exercise in which delegates were challenged to develop their collaborative disease outbreak investigation skills at both the technical and senior decision maker levels. The simulated disease was aptly named “Mysteria”, and involved people, dogs, cattle and horses and spread to multiple countries in South Asia.

While not a real outbreak, this exercise presented very realistic scenarios of an emerging disease affecting multiple species and spreading across multiple countries. Solving the mystery of where this disease came from and how it spread required close team work between the human and animal health professionals, working together. Senior government decision makers worked with their technical advisors to solve this mystery and to manage international reporting, communication, public relations and issues such as public panic and trade barriers.

Symposium Resolutions

Plenary sessions involved presentations from One Health Hub coordinators in each country, representatives of the donor and international agencies working in the region, and an internationally recognised One Health expert, outlining the key One Health issues, and both progress and constraints at the national, regional and global levels. These presentations provided the context for the development and presentation of the Symposium Resolutions adopted at the Symposium, identifying priority actions to strengthen One Health in the South Asia Region.

Closing Ceremony and Gala Dinner

The Symposium was officially closed by the Honourable Minister for Health, His Excellency Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, and the Honourable Minister for Agriculture and Forests, His Excellency Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, from the Royal Government of Bhutan.

After the closing ceremony, a very successful week was celebrated in style with cultural performances, singing and dancing and a Gala Dinner held in the grand setting of the Zhiwa Ling Hotel.

Special thanks were extended to the donor, the hosts and to all the contributors and participants for creating such a productive and memorable event.