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NSW university to lead Pacific wildlife disease education project

Covid-19 outbreak has ‘highlighted the importance of animal health education’

Veterinary scientists from Charles Sturt University are to lead a three-year training programme to help prevent the spread of animal diseases in five Pacific Islands countries.

The university, which is based in the regional New South Wales town of Wagga Wagga, has received a $1 million grant from the federal government to train animal health workers in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Island, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.

The programme will be led by Andrew Peters, associate professor in wildlife health and pathology with the school of animal and veterinary sciences. He is also a board member of Wildlife Health Australia, a national organisation that works with state governments, universities, zoos and veterinarians across the country.

The CSU programme will train animal health officers, or para-veterinarians, to identify and control animal disease outbreaks that could affect human health and local economies.

Peters said the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic—which is thought to have originated from wildlife—had highlighted the importance of animal health education.

The training programme led by CSU is part of a $4.3m initiative funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that will involve more than 40 veterinary experts from research and training institutions across the Asia-Pacific region.

Peters said that para-veterinarians “make up the bulk of the animal health force in our Pacific neighbours”.

“It is essential they receive the proper training because—as we have seen with the Covid-19 pandemic—animal health is particularly critical to regional biosecurity, human health and the economy.”

He said the CSU team would train these animal health workers to identify and manage zoonotic diseases, such as pathogens and viruses that have the potential to spread from wildlife to humans.

More than 15 researchers and support staff from CSU will be involved in the Pacific Islands training programme. The team includes Tania Areori, a final-year veterinary student who will become Papua New Guinea’s first female veterinarian when she graduates.