A team of Wagga-based experts and academics will join a multi-million dollar program to prevent the spread of animal-borne viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, around the world.
Dr Andrew Peters, an expert in animal pathology from Charles Sturt University's Graham Centre in Wagga, and near-graduated veterinarian Tania Areori will be part of the 40-member team.
Together, once restrictions on travelling have been lifted they will work in veterinarian schools across 11 countries. But right now, the work has already begun virtually.
"Animal health and human health are deeply connected, and right now we have a renewed understanding of that [with COVID-19]," Dr Peters said.
While coronavirus - which is believed to have jumped from an animal virus into humans - has prompted worldwide concern, the devastating reality of animal-borne viruses is an experience much of the world has known for countless years.
"In Australia, it's not as obvious, we're not as dependent on livestock, but for parts of the Pacific, livestock production is a daily reality," he said.
"This project is not in direct response to COVID-19, that has already jumped to humans. It comes out of realising that animal health is so important."
The program has been awarded a $4.3 million contract from the Department of Foreign Affairs, with CSU having received $1 million of the funding.
It will primarily target areas of South East Asia and the Pacific and will aim to improve biosecurity as well as the identifying and treatment of potentially life-threatening viruses.
"We don't know where the next major zoonotic disease will come from," Dr Peters said.
"In Australia, we have some of the strongest biosecurity [strategies] in the world and that's something we can share. We have to look after the areas - our neighbours - where there is low animal health biosecurity.
"If the people on the ground are skilled when it comes to these viruses, then we're prepared no matter what happens."
After spending the past five years in Wagga working towards her doctorate, Ms Areori is excited to have the opportunity to return to her homeland of Papua New Guinea as part of this project.
Of particular concern at the moment, Ms Areori said, is the recent arrival of African Swine Flu in the country. It had been spreading through South East Asia before it was detected in PNG only six weeks ago.
The virus's presence in PNG is what Dr Peters describes as "the worst-case scenario" for a people group that relies heavily on pigs for their food and livelihood.