By Anthony Falzarano
One Health – the booming initiative to encourage collaboration between all varieties of physicians, veterinarians, and virtually every remaining health-related field of practice – is a word that you’d be hard pressed to go ten minutes without hearing at any conference, meeting or coffee conversation involving global health and biodefense. This new concept that we must consider all the health-related disciplines to truly understand and address the challenges faced in public health has grown to be the backbone of forward-thinking health initiatives like the Global Health Security Agenda.
Despite being a relatively new movement, One Health programs have been implemented around the world in many capacities, and have brought with them many successes while simultaneously uncovering new challenges. At ASM Biothreats this year, a session to showcase these new findings from various worldwide One Health approaches was organized. Titled We Are the World: Global Approaches to Threat Reduction Through One Health, this session featured a panel of experts from various organizations and agencies such as World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health, and the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology. The speakers all highlighted projects within their various organizations which had flavors of One Health, demonstrating new and ambitious technologies to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats.
To begin, Dr. Christine Uhlenhaut, a veterinarian with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), underscored some of the challenges which One Health initiatives need to address. Dr. Uhlenhaut made it abundantly clear that humans and animals face the same challenges when it comes to infectious diseases. Further, she articulated that animal and human diseases are far more intricately linked than most people realize: zoonotic diseases make up 60% of total human infectious diseases, while also comprising 75% of emerging infectious diseases. She then covered the World Animal Health Info System, WAHIS, an OIE platform for tracking animal diseases and pertinent information.
Dr. Stefan de la Rocque from the World Health Organization then spoke. Mostly centered on the Joint External Evaluation (JEE) tool, Dr. de la Rocque’s emphasized the importance of all countries completing evaluations. He noted vast improvements in countries which had performed the JEE’s, since the tool both allows them to take an introspective look at their health security capacities while also opening them to feedback from other countries – externally evaluating them and often calling to mind blind spots which may have been missed. The paramount finding of a vast survey of many countries with completed JEE’s was that despite high-level motivation and political calls to action, the community and local-level efforts, funding and resources were still lacking.
The final two speeches were very similar to each other; given by gentlemen representing the health ministries of the neighboring East African countries of Kenya and Tanzania. Together they highlighted that any health system – whether local, national, regional or global – can only be as strong as its weakest link. The East African region sits in a hotspot of emerging infectious diseases and often, the speakers noted, faces costly animal health issues due to this location. The two gentlemen expressed both of their government’s desire to improve upon their JEE scores by working with global partners to develop action plans to help improve their health capacities.
These stories all demonstrated how the One Health approach has been met with success, challenges, and in some cases, questions as to how to proceed. While the outstanding work integrating animal, human and environmental health will continue to be an ongoing fight, it is imperative that all countries acknowledge and address the risks posed by zoonotic diseases and support each other in developing a strong global health system chain with no weak links.