An introduction to One Health
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
I've been a bit behind with my blog writing this week for a good reason... I had to deliver my first assignments for my university course! It has been a fascinating 6 initial weeks on the One Health post-grad class, and I'd like to share a bit more about it in this post and introduce you to this concept and why I decided to study it.
What is One Health?
Before defining One Health, one needs to attempt understanding what is meant by ‘health’. The World Health Organization (WHO) definition is: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1946). It is striking in this 70-year old definition that health cannot only be defined by the lack of a disease and makes it clear from the outset that attaining health is complex.
Despite being similar disciplines until the 18th century, animal and human medicines got progressively separated as more specializations appeared. With the advent of microbiology and immunology in the 19th and 20th centuries, it became known that microorganisms can cause disease in both animals and humans and the term ‘zoonosis’ was first introduced by Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902). This was the fundamental premise of an integrated approach, demonstrating the need to bring animal and human health closer. More recently it has been acknowledged that environmental pollution leads to emergence of new diseases (Patz, 2000). This brought up that a more integrated & holistic approach to health was needed including ecosystem health.
One Health approach represents a novel paradigm in global health, as it rests on the shared principle that Human, Animal and Ecosystem health are interrelated (Gibbs, 2014). The aim of One Health is (i) to promote collaboration across disciplines, (ii) prevent silo thinking without considering the big picture, and (iii) avoid the collateral damage of making unilateral and short-sighted decisions.
A definition of One Health (from the One Health initiative) reads: "It is the collaborative effort of multiple health science professions, together with their related disciplines and institutions – working locally, nationally, and globally – to attain optimal health for people, domestic animals, wildlife, plants and our environment.”
A key milestone took place in 2008, when the WHO, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a joined strategic framework in response to the evolving risk of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases (EID) (Contributing to One World, One Health, 2008). The framework came out as a suggestion following the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in 2006 and it “focused on EIDs at the animal-human-ecosystem interface, where there is the potential for epidemics and pandemics that could result in wide-ranging impacts at the country, regional and international levels.” (Contributing to One World, One Health, 2008, p.5). It was paramount to ensure learning was consolidated and long-term strategies put in place as well as heightened preparedness to address potential future EIDs.
One Health scope and key stakeholders
Albeit the concept of One Health may have been mainly influenced by zoonotic EIDs initially, it has now evolved to englobe a larger set of other problematics which can benefit from such concerted, multidisciplinary approach: biodiversity and wildlife conservation, food safety & security, antimicrobial resistance, mental health and global climate change. The broader scope means an increased complexity, which translates into a potential large number of stakeholders and experts involved.
The above figure (One Health initiative, 2020) summarizes the umbrella of disciplines involved in the One Health approach. Beyond the initial 3 large groups of professionals working on animal health, human health and ecosystem health that are derived directly from the One Health definition, it would be important to integrate other actors that can bridge to the less visible, yet important social and economic aspects of One Health. It would mean that animal behaviourists, psychologists, economists or food producers potentially need to join in for instance. Key interactions of these stakeholders can be for:
disease surveillance in both animals (wildlife reservoir and livestock) and humans,
collaboration for species management and conservation including habitat protection,
study of the animal-human relationship and its impact on the welfare of both,
partnership for safe, sustainable and affordable food production taking into account economic, social and environmental aspects of it.
One paradox is that the more actors getting involved, the more likely any designed “solution” to a given global challenge would be successful in getting a large buy-in, however the more time and financial resources it would require to consolidate and lead a transdisciplinary team of that span. Considering the speed at which some matters such as climate change arise, would it be realistic? What level of trade-off are we willing to make? Shall we aim for fast low-quality results or slow high-quality outcomes that may come in too late?
As you can tell from the above (which is in an excerpt from one of my essays), One Health is a complex affair! That's what intrigued me when I did the Coursera class in May and pushed me to explore further. I feel privileged to learn amid a very diverse class of students - most of them also working besides studying part-time - who live around the globe from Alaska to New Zealand through Chile and Uganda. Each week is quite intense and they were not joking about the 10 to 20 hours required... I'm fascinated how this will impact my journey with animals and future professional self.
For now, I'm still sweating in the small village of Barra de Potosi (Mexico) and the dogs are sleeping quietly - for now. I will continue my story about the fantastic work that the team at Amigos de animales shelter is doing later this week.
I know it's a tough time for most of you who are facing new lockdowns or restrictions in Europe. I would like to share some positive thoughts and a quote that I read recently:
I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which is shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it. ~Groucho Marx
Thanks for reading. Please note the full list of references I mentioned throughout this post is available upon request.