One Health Approach to tackle the crisis caused by the Pandemic
Polity & Governance
10th May, 2021
Well into the COVID-19 situation in India, the Government of India set up a National Expert Group on ‘One Health’ as a multi-sectoral, transdisciplinary, collaborative group.
The move recognised that several recent human pandemics, including COVID-19, influenzas (H1N1, H7N9) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have animal origins, and that a One Health approach has long been advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE).
- There are an estimated 25 million farmers in some form of poultry business in India producing about 4 billion broilers and 93 billion eggs a year. The industry is growing at 6-8 per cent per annum.
- The COVID-19pandemic in India in its early phase (January to March 2020) had been erroneously linked to the consumption of chicken.
- This may have, in part, been on account of bird flu outbreaks in several states in the preceding few months. Significantly, it led to a dramatic crash in poultry consumption and prices, followed by the lockdown and its economic consequences.
- With the continued lack of demand from the hotel-restaurant-catering segment, the poultry industry continues to be in a state of crisis and the ongoing bird flu outbreaks across 10 states have slowed the recovery process.
- On the back of the pandemic, the ‘One Health’ approach has been reignited to tackle preventable conditions at the animal-human-ecosystems interface.
What is one Health Concept?
- One Health is an approach that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.
- One Health is not new, but it has become more important in recent years. This is because many factors have changed interactions between people, animals, plants, and our environment.
- Human populations are growing and expanding into new geographic areas. As a result, more people live in close contact with wild and domestic animals, both livestock and pets.
- Animals play an important role in our lives, whether for food, fiber, livelihoods, travel, sport, education, or companionship. Close contact with animals and their environments provides more opportunities for diseases to pass between animals and people.
- The earth has experienced changes in climate and land use, such as deforestation and intensive farming practices. Disruptions in environmental conditions and habitats can provide new opportunities for diseases to pass to animals.
- The movement of people, animals, and animal products has increased from international travel and trade. As a result, diseases can spread quickly across borders and around the globe.
- These changes have led to the spread of existing or known (endemic) and new or emerging zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can spread between animals and people.
- Examples of zoonotic diseases include: Rabies, Salmonella infection, West Nile virus infection, Q Fever (Coxiella burnetii), Anthrax, Brucellosis, Lyme disease, Ringworm, Ebola.
What are common One Health issues?
- One Health issues include zoonotic diseases, antimicrobial resistance, food safetyand food security, vector-borne diseases, environmental contamination, and other health threats shared by people, animals, and the environment.
- Even the fields of chronic disease, mental health, injury, occupational health, and noncommunicable diseases can benefit from a One Health approach involving collaboration across disciplines and sectors.
How does a One Health approach work?
- One Health is gaining recognition in the different countries and globally as an effective way to fight health issues at the human-animal-environment interface, including zoonotic diseases.
- Scientist uses a One Health approach by involving experts in human, animal, environmental health, and other relevant disciplines and sectors in monitoring and controlling public health threats and to learn about how diseases spread among people, animals, plants, and the environment.
- Successful public health interventions require the cooperation of human, animal, and environmental health partners.
- Professionals in human health (doctors, nurses, public health practitioners, epidemiologists), animal health (veterinarians, paraprofessionals, agricultural workers), environment (ecologists, wildlife experts), and other areas of expertise need to communicate, collaborate on, and coordinate activities.
- Other relevant players in a One Health approach could include law enforcement, policymakers, agriculture, communities, and even pet owners. No one person, organization, or sector can address issues at the animal-human-environment interface alone.
- By promoting collaboration across all sectors, a One Health approach can achieve the best health outcomes for people, animals, and plants in a shared environment.
History Behind the One Health Concept
- Till the 19th century, animal medicine and human medicine were not strictly separate and research was conducted in these two fields without clear boundaries.
- By the 20th century, there was a veritable explosion of scientific knowledge and medicine became increasingly specialised and professionalised; human medicine and veterinary medicine thus diverged.
- Sir William Osler promoted the term “One Medicine” – embracing animal and human medicine – in the 19th century and Dr Calvin Schwabe revived the concept in veterinary public health.
- ‘One Health’ was later proposed as a concept for interdisciplinary collaboration, and soon environment health was factored in too.
- The Pilanesberg Resolution in 2001 was targeted at multilateral and bilateral donors and governmental authorities to consider potential wildlife health impacts in development projects.
- The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) introduced the term “One World-One Health” in 2007 along with 12 recommendations (the Manhattan Principles) that focused on establishing a more holistic approach to preventing epidemic disease and maintaining ecosystem integrity.
Barriers to implementation of One Health Approach
- The most important barriers to multisectoral action are political, not technical.
- The articulation or framing of the problem can be in terms of development, equity, economic or health gains; the extent to which this resonates with high-level political agendas is crucial to achieving buy-in from different sectors.
- One Health initiatives, by their multidisciplinary nature, entail working across ministries and navigating tacit institutional hierarchies and allocating leadership roles.
- ‘One Health’ consortia may also not though succeed fully if they remain a purely governmental endeavour; the cooperation and active engagement of individuals, communities and society are needed.
Recents efforts to study the Zoonotic Disease
- There are already several cross-cutting efforts operating in India to develop protocols for a database of research into zoonotic diseases.
- But to date, there is no single agency or framework that embraces all interdisciplinary sectorial players under a single umbrella to carry forward the ‘One Health’ agenda — even in this difficult time.
- Inarguably, the National Expert Group has a tough mandate: To “promote multi-sectoral, transdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation.” Accountability, transparency and trust are essential to drive such action, but can remain elusive.
- The recently announced Prime Minister Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana(PM-ASBY), supported by a Rs 3,500 crore loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to boost the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in India shall hopefully use One Health as a foundational principle.
India being home to a large portion of the world’s livestock farmers, the absence of a policy framework that ratifies the ‘One Health’ approach in development and health policies is a major hurdle in eliminating poverty and poverty-related diseases. We await a vision, a strategy and a roadmap for India’s ‘One Health’ agenda.