Over 70% of infectious diseases which have emerged during the last 50 years have been zoonotic (able to be transmitted from animals to humans). Hong Kong has been at the centre of two such incidents, one was the first avian influenza outbreak in 1997 and the other the SARS outbreak in 2002/3, both involving human fatalities. We have since come to the realisation that intensification and concentration of livestock-associated food production together with highly concentrated human populations in an increasingly urbanised and inter-connected world have resulted in a global, highly complex eco-social system within which the risk of emergence and spread of new and existing infectious diseases is greatly increased.
Effective management of these risks requires interdisciplinary professional skills that acknowledge the system connectedness and thereby are able to examine and manage the interaction between the eco-social system’s environmental, animal and human dimensions. Through their intensive professional training in companion and food animal health, veterinarians work at the interface between humans, animals and the environment, and therefore play a key role in the fight against zoonotic disease risks. By detecting outbreaks of zoonotic diseases early on in animal populations, veterinarians are our first line of defence for protecting human health. Veterinarians save human lives by working at every level of disease detection, from farm to national and global level surveillance, through disease diagnostic testing, research, regulatory veterinary medicine, and disease outbreak emergency response and control. Veterinary input into the management of major disease control programmes has resulted in the successful eradication of zoonotic diseases in many countries, including Hong Kong, such as bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, rabies, trichinellosis and echinococcosis.
City University makes a significant contribution towards safeguarding humans from emerging zoonotic disease threats through its undergraduate Batchelor of Veterinary Medicine, its veterinary graduate research training programme and its veterinary research.