From common diseases like malaria that has been prevalent for some time, down to more recent outbreaks like that of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa in 2013 and even to the Coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the entire world, amongst many other diseases, both historic and recent, we find the concept of One Health being implied.
What is One Health?
One Health is a concept that brings into context the relativity of human, animal and environmental health. As defined by the One Health Initiative Task Force (OHTIF), it is “the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working logically, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment”.
One Health seeks to make a holistic approach towards solving issues affecting global health by bringing in relevant stakeholders in human, animal and environmental health.
The ideas that will later accumulate into what is known today as ‘One Health’ actually started springing up from the time of the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460 B.C.E – c. 370 B.C.E) but the term itself was not mentioned until 2003.
Since then, different moves and collaborative steps have been taken by different organisations to implement the One Health concept as the general approach towards global health issues resolution. The major organisations include; World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other relevant stakeholders.
What are the issues needing the One Health approach?
Some major categories of health issues that require the One Health approach today include:
Zoonoses refer to diseases that can be transferred from animals to the human populace. From a report by the OIE, it is understood that 60% of existing human infectious diseases are zoonotic, at least 75% of emerging infectious diseases of humans (including Ebola, HIV, and influenza) have an animal origin, 3 out of 5 new human diseases that appear every year are of animal origin and 80% of agents with potential bioterrorist use are zoonotic pathogens.
Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)
The indiscriminate use of antibiotics as a means of disease control and prevention in livestock has stimulated the targeted microbes, in a fight for survival, to develop some resistance to these drugs. Unfortunately, some of these ‘drug-resistant’ microbes are also capable of infecting humans thereafter, thus making treatment of such consequent diseases in humans more difficult and cost-intensive.
To read about the ways antimicrobial resistance is being tackled, click here.
Food security and food safety
The issue of food safety and security intricately validates the need for the worldwide implementation of the One-Health concept.
Food safety ensures that food for human consumption is free from contamination so as to prevent the occurrence of food-borne illnesses. Food security on the other hand is concerned with issues like food availability, food accessibility and food usage.
The reality is that there are many food-borne diseases that have been threatening global health. This is caused by the contamination of food and water due to human and animal activities. In the case of food security, because climate for example, is a major factor affecting food availability, human activities that affect climate change also tend to affect food availability for both humans and animals.
Here are some scenarios where the One Health approach has been implemented:
1) Combat against spread of rabies virus in China…
In 2015, China had the second highest human rabies death rate. Collaborative steps were taken by different stakeholders based on the One Health approach and some agendas were resultantly generated in order to combat the spread of rabies and bring human deaths to zero by 2030 in China. The workshop called Stepwise Approach to Rabies Elimination (SARE) was said to have “brought together national and province health officials from the human and animal health sectors to identify key steps to help achieve rabies elimination.” Experts from WHO, FAO and OIE were also said to have participated in the workshop.
2) Demystification of deaths of children in northern Nigeria…
Children deaths in 2010 in Zamfara, a state in northern Nigeria became a major source of concern for public health officials. Via a One Health collaboration, it was revealed that the ‘mysterious’ deaths was due to what was regarded as “…. the largest known outbreak of lead poisoning in history” and this was attributed to the gold mining activity in the area.
Ducks were said to have started disappearing as at the onset of the occurrence but this was not thought important at the time. The precedence of ‘duck deaths’ which could have served as a warning signal further stresses the importance of proper One Health awareness.
3) Effort to contain the spread of Rift Valley Fever…
In the fight against rift valley fever, two major actions were taken based on the One Health approach. The first involves the vaccination of infected animals, thereby helping to reduce the spread to humans through contact or consumption as there are yet no human vaccines for the disease. The second approach involves monitoring the environment so as to predict future outbreaks of the virus as it was discovered that the outbreak of the virus usually accompany periods of unusually heavy rainfall.
4) Unraveling of the mystery behind the death of sea otters in California…
The sudden death of sea otters seen floating on water bodies brought about a major concern. Through the One Health approach involving collaboration between relevant stakeholders, it was revealed that the cause was the increasing frequency of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) which were said to be dangerous to the health of humans, animals and environment. In 2016, the CDC was said to have launched the One Health Harmful Algal Blooms System (OHHABS) which reportedly “…aims to share information between human and animal health agencies to improve our understanding of these environmental blooms to best protect health for all.”
5) Control of Zoonoses in Uzbekistan…
Due to challenges in the control and prevention of zoonotic diseases in Uzbekistan as a result of inadequate health facilities and other factors, steps were taken using a One Health approach to curb the spread. “The purpose of these discussions included the development of a 5-year strategic plan for implementing One Health approaches and determining a One Health organizational framework, guided by components of the CDC One Health Strategy Toolkit, which is currently under development”.
All these, and many other cases not mentioned have proven the possibility of finding answers to our major global health challenges in the One Health concept.
As there are increasing occurrences of many emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases that are of animal origin, as well as other issues involving interaction among humans, animals and the environment, we see more, the need for a global awareness and implementation of the One Health concept towards promoting global health. We are in this together!
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