One Health Approach: The Journey So Far

One Health Approach: The Journey So Far

By Melody Okereke; PANS, Nigeria

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one or more new infectious diseases have emerged each year since the 1970s. The majority of these have been zoonoses, diseases caused by pathogens that can be transmitted between animals and humans, with more than three-quarters originating from wildlife (Jones et al. 2008). Of the 1400 diseases now recognized in humans, 64% are caused by pathogens transmissible across species. These trends have led to support for a more integrated and holistic approach to human, animal and environmental health known as One Health. The centre for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that although the term “One Health” is fairly new, the concept has long been recognized both nationally and globally. Since the 1800s, scientists have noted the similarity in disease processes amongst animals and humans, but human and animal medicine was practised separately until the 20th century. In recent years, through the support of key individuals and vital events, the One Health concept has gained more recognition in the public health and animal health communities. This approach has received growing attention over the past decade among policymakers, practitioners and funders seeking more effective prevention, control and treatment responses in an increasingly populous and globalized world.

In their definition, the World Health Organization explained One Health as an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.

The areas of work in which a One Health approach is particularly relevant include food safety, the control of zoonoses (diseases that can spread between animals and humans, such as flu, rabies and Rift Valley Fever), and combating antimicrobial resistance (when bacteria change after being exposed to antibiotics and become more difficult to treat).

Why the need for a One Health Approach?

Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from diseases spread between animals and people. Animals can sometimes serve as early warning signs of potential illness in people. For example, birds often die of West Nile virus before people get sick with West Nile virus fever. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. A One Health approach encourages collaborative efforts of many experts (like disease detectives, laboratorians, physicians, and veterinarians) working across the human, animal, and environmental health to improve the health of people and animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife.

What is the current situation of the One Health Approach?

It’s a frightening reality that global and local health systems have been caught off guard by threatening infectious diseases. Newly emerging diseases, originating from the human-animal-environment interface have been predicted in disease hotspots in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

There is an urgent need to prepare policy frameworks that can combat these threats. These policies would address the emergence and spill-over of infectious diseases and assure appropriate control and prevention of disease outbreaks.

Who makes the One Health approach work?

Many professionals with a range of expertise who are active in different sectors, such as public health, animal health, plant health and the environment, should join forces to support One Health approaches.

To effectively detect, respond to, and prevent outbreaks of zoonoses and food safety problems, epidemiological data and laboratory information should be shared across sectors. Government officials, researchers and workers across sectors at the local, national, regional and global levels should implement joint responses to health threats (WHO, 2018).

Successful public health interventions require the cooperation of human, animal, and environmental health communities. By promoting this collaboration, the One Health Approach hopes to achieve optimal health outcomes for both people and animals.