New ‘One Health’ course links animal, human and environmental interactions

Catherine Pirkle shares a photo of a sediment plume with her health students to illustrate the effects of human activity on the oceans. Photo credit: Catherine Pirkle

Although there are still many unknowns about the origin of the COVID-19[female[feminine pandemic, it was likely the transmission of a coronavirus from a bat or other species to humans. Diseases such as COVID-19[female[feminine illustrate how human health and animal health are often linked.

A new university Hawaii Mānoa’s undergraduate public health course, called “Introduction to One Health“, aims to teach students about the myriad animal-human-environment interactions that occur globally as well as in Hawaii, that could harm the health of humans and the planet now and in the future.

“In the future, citizens of the world will need to understand the links between animal health, human health and climate change,” said Catherine Pirkle, associate professor in the Office of Public Health Studies (SSP), who teaches the course. “This course aims to equip students with the knowledge they will need to help address the complex challenges facing our world.”

Critical Connections

Ministries of health and many public health organizations, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recognize the importance of the One Health concept. Typically, a health course incorporates lessons in veterinary medicine, public health, health policy, biology, ecology, climatology, and sociology.

uh Students enrolled in the course will follow thematic modules. In a module on water sources and contamination, students learn how lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, has impacted children’s health and how Hawaiian monk seals develop infections from contaminated sewage entering the Pacific. In a module on fossil fuels, classroom activities cover the impacts of global warming and rising seas on coastal indigenous peoples, as well as coral bleaching events.

“The goal is for students to learn to see the connections between all of these disparate impacts, and also learn about the critical policy decisions behind events that change our environment,” Pirkle said. The course is taught asynchronously, which means students can work at their own pace to complete assignments on time while engaging in group discussions via the course forum.

Regional relevance

The topics covered are particularly relevant to Hawaii and the Pacific region. This course is part of an interdisciplinary and cross-departmental collaboration to support undergraduate student engagement in unique health concepts in research and training funded by a recent competition. This project brings together the strengths of SSP, John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABOM), College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

“The vast majority of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, which means they begin with the transmission of a microbe from animals to humans,” said Richard Yanagihara, professor of pediatrics at JABOM and the leader of interdepartmental collaboration.

“Human encroachment on animal habitats and human consumption of wild animals contribute to the emergence of infectious diseases,” Yanagihara said. “It is imperative to better understand the connectivity between humans, animals and the environment in order to develop more effective solutions to mitigate and prevent infectious diseases with epidemic potential.”

“These issues, and our collaborations, are becoming more urgent as we go COVID-19[female[feminine,” noted Sentell teat, President and Director of SSP. “We are excited about this course and to continue to work together to develop collaborative research and teaching in One Health through the strengths of uh.”

The inaugural One Health course is open to undergraduate and graduate students of all majors, and the next course will be offered in 2021. Interested students can contact Pirkle at [email protected] for more information.

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