– The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that global health challenges cannot be solved by health sector interventions alone.
Many of the recent epidemics – Ebola, Zika and even Covid-19 – are emerging infectious diseases transmitted by wildlife. In addition, other global health issues have a dramatic impact on people, livestock, wildlife and agriculture, which has adverse effects on local, national and global economies.
To truly tackle potential pandemics, African higher education institutions must promote a more integrated approach to health care education that breaks down the silos between doctors, veterinarians, laboratory scientists and other professions aligned to take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. only health ”. In short, each discipline is affected and everything must be taken into consideration when applying the solutions.
The One Health approach refers to the collaboration of several disciplines working at local, national and global levels for optimal health of people, animals, plants and the environment. It brings together different disciplines to tackle issues holistically and is essential for Africa since most emerging and re-emerging diseases have been linked to wildlife.
The concept has already been endorsed by several national and international organizations and is beginning to be implemented in several medical schools in North America.
But not in Africa.
Take, for example, Nigeria where the education model encourages competition and territoriality between professions instead of collaboration in practice.
Currently, only 2% of clinical trials conducted globally are in Africa, according to Tom Kariuki, director of programs at the African Academy of Sciences. This could hamper the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine in terms of understanding the immune response and safety in African populations.
There are historical challenges that have limited vaccine trials in Africa. In Nigeria, these challenges are exacerbated by labor disputes. While the approval of drugs and vaccines is the responsibility of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), oversight of the conduct of clinical trials involving human subjects rests with the National Committee for Nigeria Health Research Ethics (NHREC). This sometimes foreshadows bureaucratic difficulties.
Some African countries have networks involved in One Health training, research and awareness raising. However, most of them are not integrated into the approach and the practice. For example, the Nigerian Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (NFELTP) is a service-oriented training program with three different options or streams: applied epidemiology, public health laboratory practice, or veterinary epidemiology, which means that the different streams retain their traditional professional territory.
Recently, while working on the front line during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as head of the decontamination and containment arm of the Covid-19 task force for Oyo State, Nigeria, he became clear that healthcare workers still do not understand what one health is. approach means in practice. Most requests for decontamination of facilities where Covid-19 patients had been evacuated were not communicated, were delayed or relayed through the wrong channels.
The lack of synergy in communicating information has important implications for global efforts to curb the spread of the virus. A Global One Health Approach requires people with the technical skills to work across sectors, disciplines and borders to successfully manage complex health issues and epidemics.
We have already seen examples of this in action on the continent. Through curriculum development workshops, the University of Rwanda School of Veterinary Medicine, in association with Tufts University, revised its curriculum to incorporate collaborative interdisciplinary skills to better prepare graduates for the real world. in the field.
The approach was endorsed by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, who said “we can only prevent future pandemics with an integrated #OneHealth approach to public health, animal health and human health. the environment we share ”.
While it may not be possible to immediately reshape every medical, veterinary and environmental health practitioner transformed into the One Health workforce, we can start by organizing continuing professional development in One Health to keep practitioners up to date. cross-sectoral best practices.
Higher education institutions need to integrate One Health concepts, skills and competencies to create improved programs and programs. Finally, we need to strengthen communication between medical, veterinary and environmental health practitioners in the field.
COVID-19 has shown that we need to act quickly as changes at the interface of humans, livestock and wildlife lead to an increased risk of emerging disease threats across the world. We must begin to coordinate and optimize resources in the human, veterinary and environmental sectors for the prevention, detection and control of epidemics of infectious diseases.
In doing so, we will be better prepared for the next pandemic.
Olanike Adeyemo is Professor in the Department of Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and Aspen New Voices Fellow 2021. She advocates for an integrated health workforce to support a cohesive approach for a world healthier. Follow her on Twitter @ OlanikeAdeyemo1.