Commentary – Incorporating One Health into Global Security: Educating the Public and Governments

By Maddie Roty, Biodefense MS Student

The Global Health Security Agenda Annual Ministerial Meeting, held 18-20 November 2020, focused on addressing gaps in global health security by promoting international and multidisciplinary engagement, coordination, and funding. Leading up to this event, there were side meetings addressing various topics related to global health. On 27 October, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted the side meeting “Incorporating One Health into Global Security: Educating the Public and Governments.” One Health is an important topic that promotes a multisectoral approach needed to address global health security issues from climate change to zoonotic spillover events, and to improve the human and planetary conditions. Dr. Jennifer Rowland, an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at USDA, moderated two panels, one made up of One Health educators and the other of government officials with a role in One Health. The panels addressed how to educate students about One Health and how to implement One Health initiatives in US government agencies.

The One Health education panel included: Dr. Laura Kahn from Princeton University and the Founder of One Health Initiative; Dr. Deborah Thomson, Founder of OneHealthLessons.com; and Dr. Olga Pena, Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellow. Dr. Rowland asked each panelist a series of questions regarding the value of teaching students about One Health, how it helps support the goals of international organizations, and the challenges we face.

The most sobering point during this panel was made by Dr. Pena, who said “One Health disrupts human-centric views.” Too often, we are blinded to the interconnectedness of the human, plant, animal, and environmental conditions. What humans do affect the health of the rest of the planet, and what happens in Mother Nature affects the health of humans. Maintaining human-centric views will not only be harmful to the planetary condition but to humanity as well.

Sustainability is a challenge for One Health. Historically, the health sector has been reactive to threats, not proactive. Once a threat subsides, so does interest and funding. Dr. Thomson emphasized the best way to sustain efforts is to talk to the people who are most curious, most interested, and most willing to learn: children. If we want to change policies in the future, we need to reach the future politicians. For efforts to be sustainable, One Health education must also be tailored to the local community, traditions, and beliefs. Partnerships at the local level must be developed, and community leaders must be taught and empowered so they can continue teaching.

Unfortunately, providing education about One Health is challenging without the appropriate funding and resources. The panelists stated frustrations with finding funding for something as interdisciplinary as One Health, and even less funding for education because “education is not a product.” Building synergistic relationships that exchange funding for expertise, such as government agencies partnering with organizations and universities, is one way around this challenge, but it is not common enough to be a sufficient solution.

The One Health government panel included: Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh from CDC; Dr. Jane Rooney from USDA; and Mr. John Haynes from NASA. They answered a series of questions about how One Health is incorporated into the agencies, how agencies can work together, and how agencies can empower One Health work.

The most important takeaway from this panel was that One Health relies on partnerships. Despite the name, One Health is a team sport and no one person or one agency can accomplish its objectives. Like the education panel, this panel was concerned about funding and resources in the government for One Health, showing that interest and investment must come from the highest levels of government. In December 2017, there was an interagency workshop with subject matter experts and high-level agency voting members to come up with priority zoonotic diseases and generate recommendations on how to move One Health forward. Coronaviruses were on the list, and the workshop included suggestions for how to prepare for coronaviruses. Unfortunately, the resources were not there to follow through with the recommendations. Two years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has obviated the consequences of this lack of commitment and resources.

Of all the panel members in this meeting, Mr. Haynes impressed me the most, perhaps because he was the most surprising participant. Prior to the meeting, I had no understanding of how NASA would be involved in One Health, let alone serve as one of the leading agencies promoting the concept. Apparently, I was not alone; Mr. Haynes elaborated on how NASA attends public health and other medical conferences to raise awareness about what NASA is doing and how it should be incorporated into the health sector. NASA has an air and health quality applications program, and it has been very active during the COVID-19 pandemic. One program, for example, is modeling how the Saharan dust plume impacts public health, and specifically if the plume is associated with greater morbidity and mortality from COVID-19. There is no public health school in the United States that includes environmental remote sensing observations like those that this program offers in its curriculum. Mr. Haynes believes, and I am convinced, that this is a problem as most public health students and professionals have no idea these data are there and how valuable they can be for disease issues.

The main lessons from both panels were that One Health is extremely interdisciplinary and requires increased commitment and funding from educators, government agencies and leaders, and the public to protect the human and planetary conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic – occurring at the same time as compounding disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, and famines – show just how interconnected all of these issues are, and, hopefully, will stimulate increased and sustained dedication to One Health principles. 

Now more than ever, it is important to be actively engaged in global health security. If you would like to watch any of the side meetings or the Ministerial Meeting, click here.

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