Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)


There are an estimated 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in mammals and birds, any one of which could become a new pandemic.

To combat and manage emerging zoonotic diseases, the federal government will put an additional $8.4 million into Australia’s wildlife health and early detection research over the next four years.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the funding would put Australia at the forefront of a global initiative aimed at preventing future diseases.

“COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the importance of recognising and managing emerging zoonotic disease risks which can originate from wildlife,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Nearly all major exotic livestock diseases of potential concern to Australia, including African swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease, will have wildlife and/or feral animals as part of their cause or spread.”

Environment Minister Susan Ley said a healthy environment was a precursor to human and animal health.

“This funding will prioritise the investigation of significant wildlife disease events to identify the underlying causes and determine their relevance to human, animal(s), and environmental health,” she said.

Wildlife Health Australia will lead the program’s delivery, which involves the establishment of a One Health investigation fund.

The fund will also aim to officially partner WHA’s research within Australia and the Indo-Pacific region with the World Organisation for Animal Health.

The government is also putting aside $205,000 to aid Papua New Guinea’s recovery from African swine fever outbreaks since 2020 and $180,000 to bolster Timor-Leste’s biosecurity after the swine fever broke out in 2019.

Mr Littleproud said the funds would help encourage better farming practices to minimise the health risks, with more than 70 per cent of Timor-Leste households keeping pigs.

Meanwhile, PNG will fund road checkpoints and field teams to monitor and respond to reports of swine fever as well as educate smaller farms about how to better manage the risk of the disease.

African swine flu is a viral disease with no effective vaccine. It lives in contaminated pig pens for at least 30 days and survives in uncooked, frozen of cured pig-meat for longer periods of time.

The virus is spread through close contact between pigs and is widespread throughout Asia.