One health: Not an option but a necessity
MANY of us may have heard the term One Health (OH) for the first time. Before exploring why OH is gaining importance, it is necessary to understand what OH is.
According to the World Health Organization, “OH is 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”.
One health approach recognizes that human health is closely linked to animal health and our shared environment.
One health concept is not new; the question arises why OH now? To find an answer, we need to inspect the recent events in human diseases and developments in environment-related aspects.
Upon reviewing, scientists agreed upon several points, one of which is the fact that over the last three decades, about 75% of the emerging human infectious diseases worldwide have originated in animals.
More detailed studies revealed that, in recent years, environmental health affected human and animal health through contamination, pollution and poor conditions and led to new infectious agents.
In recent years it has become more evident because many factors have changed the interaction between humans, animals, plants and our environment.
The significance of OH can be gauged from the fact that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, included leading health issues in OH.
Matters like zoonotic diseases, antimicrobial resistance, food safety and food security, vector-borne diseases, environmental contamination, and other health threats shared by people, animals, and the environment, are included in OH.
Moreover, according to experts, the world’s population will increase from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050.
In such a scenario, providing adequate healthcare, food and water for the growing population would be a challenge.
Pakistan does not differ from other countries, as zoonosis issues and unhealthy environmental conditions in the coming years are expected to increase along with the population.
That is why the health professions and their related disciplines and institutions must work together.
One health gives us this opportunity. Let’s move on with a simple example of agricultural land irrigated by water polluted with industrial effluents.
Further, it is followed by indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides to protect the crop from several harmful pests.
The sprayed crops land on the market for human or animal consumption. On utilization, traces of all these unwanted chemicals reach human and animal bodies, causing adverse effects in the long term.
The meat of animals loaded with cocktails of antibiotics and unhealthy fodder is brought to the market for human consumption.
Using meat of such animals raises health concerns in humans.This example clears that animal health, plant and public health and the environment are the major stakeholders in the OH approach.
It doesn’t stop here, as OH is so vast that people misunderstand OH is about everything, therefore, it is about nothing.
In fact, OH approach and implementation are needed in so many areas that it just seems to be about ‘everything’.
The list goes on and on, but a few areas urgently need an OH approach at all levels of academia, government, industry, policy and research.
These can be antimicrobial resistance mitigation, zoonotic disease surveillance, prevention and response, food safety and security, and impacts of climate change on the health of animals, ecosystems and humans.
Recently, a three-day workshop on OH promotion and advocacy was organized by Pak One Health Alliance, at the University of Health Sciences Lahore, in which I was given the opportunity to participate on behalf of the Institute of Public Health (IPH), Lahore.
On this occasion, experts from different sectors related to OH justified the above facts, that we should shift to OH approach and stressed the need to take concrete steps towards implementation.
There is no doubt the OH approach has the potential to produce more interdisciplinary programs in education, training and research.
It can also make possible more information sharing related to disease detection and diagnosis. But the question on the table is, “who will get the show on the road”?
—The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Entomology and Parasitology Institute of Public Health, Lahore.