The One Health approach is necessary to prevent future pandemics

The emergence of animal-derived (zoonotic) RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses like SARS-CoV-2 – whether from wild animals, livestock or domestic animals – is an urgent and growing threat to public health.

Understanding the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and other RNA virus outbreaks can guide how we can more effectively prevent, mitigate, or respond to future emerging infectious diseases (EIDs).

The increase in epidemics in recent decades has been driven by many factors, including human and animal population growth, coupled with expanding human-animal-environment interfaces, changing patterns of use land, climate change, global travel and trade.

These outbreaks share common characteristics, including zoonotic spread from an animal reservoir host to humans, with or without the involvement of another transmission animal host.

These events highlight the importance of a One Health approach to designing relevant, feasible and applicable solutions to prevent, mitigate and rapidly respond to future outbreaks.

The Independent Task Force on Covid-19 and Other Pandemics, of which I am a member, was formed in November 2021 to assess the available evidence on what led to the origins and early spread of Covid-19 and provide grounded recommendations on evidence to reduce impact and improve responses to future epidemics and pandemics.

It includes 12 internationally renowned scientists with diverse expertise in human, animal and public health, virology, epidemiology, wildlife ecology and EID.

This task force is actually an offshoot of The Lancet Covid Commission task force on the origins of SARS-CoV-2, which was formed in November 2020.

The latter was disbanded in September 2021 after 10 months of work due to a dispute over academic freedom, as well as bitter divisions over whether SARS-CoV-2 was triggered by natural spillover or by a lab leak.

The current Independent Working Group is not tied to any particular organization, journal, or association, and we perform this work on a voluntary basis, without funding from any specific agency.

With the addition of two members, we began work immediately after the formation of the independent working group with a literature review, interviews with other scientists, data analysis and weekly video meetings.

This resulted in the report “Origins of the Pandemic and a One Health Approach to Preparedness and Prevention: Solutions Based on SARS-CoV-2 and Other RNA Viruses,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reviewed on October 11 (2022).

The report has generated great interest among scientists, researchers and health administrators, both nationally and internationally, as it highlights the importance of a One Health approach to designing relevant, feasible and applicable solutions for prevent, mitigate and respond quickly to future outbreaks.

Main conclusions

Among our key findings are that:

  • Animal RNA viruses, including coronaviruses, have a long history of crossing species barriers for humans.

    The report provides a historical timeline of the estimated origin dates of major coronavirus outbreaks affecting people or livestock, and highlights coronaviruses that pose an increasing risk to human and animal health.

  • The risk of pandemics increases when humans and animals interact closely in new contexts driven by land use and climate change, environmental degradation, wildlife trade, population growth and economic pressure.

    Evidence indicates that most new zoonotic outbreaks originate in wildlife or livestock.

    The report provides recommendations that target high-risk animal-human interfaces to prevent or mitigate the risk of future spillovers.

  • Recently published substantial scientific evidence reviewed in the PNAS report strongly indicates that Covid-19 originated via a pathway similar to SARS-CoV.

    This involves spillover from bats to intermediate animal hosts and then to people involved in the wildlife trade, leading to the first known cluster of Covid-19 in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

    The task force finds no verifiable or credible evidence to support the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 was created or released by a laboratory.

  • Efforts to control and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic have been hampered in many countries by politics, misinformation and disinformation, and a growing anti-science/anti-vaccine movement.
  • The importance of critically assessing the potential for a zoonotic link with wildlife is that it leads to One Health-focused policy and practice changes that can reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences in the future.


Based on our findings and discussions, the following recommendations were made:

> “Smart surveillance” to identify potential high-risk pathogens

This revolves around targeting surveillance of people, wildlife, and domestic animals in emerging disease hotspots, improving safe surveillance methodologies, and innovating a disease assessment framework. risks to provide early warning of the pathogens most likely to emerge.

The benefits of smart surveillance conducted by trained personnel using rigorous protocols to maximize safety and security far outweigh the risks and provide essential data for research and development of vaccines, therapies, diagnostics and better systems. early warning, as well as to inform One Health strategies for prevention and response.

> Preparation and translational research

This includes investing in research and development of innovative, broad-spectrum diagnostics; develop antiviral and vaccine strategies for priority pathogens based on Smart Surveillance data; streamline approaches to build capacity for clinical trials, licensing and manufacturing of medical countermeasures; and understand the pathogenesis of potential high-risk pathogens to guide novel therapeutic strategies.

> Reduce risk factors for spillover and spread

This means working with communities and countries on the front lines of disease emergence to understand the epidemiological, value chain and behavioral drivers of EID emergence; implement risk reduction strategies; develop incentives to minimize human-wildlife contact at interfaces in rural areas and commercial markets; and raising awareness of emerging disease-related health impacts and the costs of land use and climate change to provide incentives for sustainable development.

> Countering misinformation and misinformation about the prevention and control of emerging diseases

It involves interdisciplinary research into the drivers of the emergence, spread and public acceptance of misinformation and disinformation in order to develop counter-mechanisms and robust strategies to counter mistrust science and expert opinion.

> Strengthening One Health governance and science

This includes creating an inclusive, multi-stakeholder One Health-based governance framework at local, regional, national and international levels for pandemic preparedness and response, as well as increasing funding for interdisciplinary and collaborative One Health research. Health.


Infectious diseases will continue to emerge, particularly RNA viruses such as influenza A and coronaviruses, which have the propensity to mutate and/or recombine among strains affecting multiple host species.

History shows that the world has not learned the lessons of past EIDs.

Although Malaysia has fought many epidemics such as Nipah, Avian flu, SARS, EV71 and Covid-19, it is imperative that we build a better framework based on One Health approach to respond quickly to the next epidemic and pandemic.

Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit is a virologist, research consultant at Universiti Malaya and senior researcher at the Malaysian Academy of Sciences. For more information, email [email protected] The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. The star makes no warranties about the accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness, or other assurances as to the content appearing in this article. The star disclaims all liability for loss, property damage or bodily injury suffered directly or indirectly as a result of reliance on this information.

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