The “One Health” approach vital to the fight against pandemics


The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the varnish of civilization is very thin. We did not have the knowledge, resources and technology to deal with such a devastating pandemic. More than 3.1 million people worldwide have died from Covid-19 and more than 146 million cases have been recorded to date. This pandemic is a crisis but it is only the beginning. Other viruses of animal origin are upon us.

A future pandemic could be worse than the current crisis because we are pushing nature to its limits by destroying and degrading incredibly diverse ecosystems, such as rainforests, rivers, lakes, mountains, coral reefs and more. others and ultimately by removing natural buffers and expanding the interface between wildlife and humans where pandemics emerge.

This unsustainable exploitation of the environment due to human-induced land-use change, intensive agriculture and animal-based food systems, increasing trade and breeding of wildlife, and their consumption leads to instabilities in ecosystems and the dynamics of host microorganisms. The increase in intimate contact between wildlife, livestock and humans potentially leads to the emergence of many zoonotic diseases, either directly or indirectly. These problems are not confined to a single species and the viability of even very resistant natural populations of animals is now threatened.

The majority of emerging viruses come from wildlife but we cannot blame wild creatures as the behavior of humans to satisfy their greed by destroying natural resources at a breakneck rate invites these viruses into our living room. Among all human activities, deforestation is probably the main source of new zoonotic diseases. As forests become increasingly fragmented, the chances of humans and their livestock coming into contact with wildlife and contracting viruses increase.

The Nipah virus first spread to Indonesia when forests were burned for agriculture. Fruit bats have fled to orchards, transmitting the disease to pigs and pig farmers. It is widely believed that a bat pathogen jumped from another animal to a human in China, then jumped on “the express of globalization”, causing extraordinary suffering and billions of dollars. damage. This happened after several decades of other pandemics – with bats or civets in the case of Ebola and SARS-CoV-1 and most likely chimpanzees in the case of HIV.

Arrogance and a luxurious lifestyle force us to assume that humans are superior to the rest of the living things on earth and that there is no need to maintain a relationship with nature. In this context, it should be mentioned that forests, freshwater systems, oceans, grasslands and the biodiversity within us literally give us clean air, clean water, climate stabilizing buffers and healthy foods, as well as natural protection against viruses.

Despite realizing this truth, we have not been able to stop exploitation in the name of so-called development. Although at the onset of this pandemic, huge sums are being spent on treating Covid-19 patients and developing vaccines, governments and politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, have done little to help. emphasis on stopping this unsustainable exploitation. How else can multinational corporations continually undertake large-scale logging or mining in the world’s remaining great forests and build hydropower projects on rivers?

These multinationals have to pay for the pandemic risks associated with these activities. Maybe some of these projects shouldn’t be undertaken at all. In this context, it is relevant to mention that stopping these practices is the only sustainable vaccine against the next pandemic. By about 2050, the human population is expected to pass the nine billion mark. These billions will seek food, water and other resources on a planet where humans already shape the climate and web of life.

The question now is to know what collective actions are necessary to prevent the next pandemic and at the same time meet the food needs of the population? We must explore the most significant change that needs to be brought about in addressing the challenges of 21st century education in a “One Health” paradigm. The starting point of “one health” is to recognize that the health and well-being of humans, animals and the environment are closely linked.

Experts from various sectors, including human health, animal health, plant health and the environment, work together to build a response infrastructure that emphasizes information sharing and coordination actions in several sectors. The “One Health” approach resembles other public health initiatives that attempt to break down disciplinary or sectoral silos, such as whole-of-government or health-in-all-policy approaches, or more recent calls to prioritize l ‘eco-health or planetary health.

It differs, however, by focusing on how competing interests such as agricultural productivity, agricultural livelihoods, animal health, and the health of people far from the farm must be balanced over a long period. This poses difficult governance and implementation challenges, as the specter of an impending health disaster is rarely present in the pre-epidemic stage, when action is most crucial.

To strengthen its integrative approach to “One Health”, one of the important tasks is to systematically collect data on the occurrence of infectious diseases and associated behaviors in humans and animals. This can help develop models to estimate the probability of emergence of a new zoonotic agent. Such systematic surveillance also makes it easier to track the spread of infection while providing early warning to human and animal health officials for response measures.

Next comes the challenge of the coordination and active collaboration required between the various agencies for a unified and rapid response. This is not only necessary at the local level, but also for global response efforts to minimize the likelihood of a potential pandemic. Another difficult action is to understand the different regulatory environments that govern live animal markets as a critical first step in assessing the role of local or national institutions in minimizing the risk of zoonosis.

In addition to this, health equity concerns must be integrated to frame the policy aimed at improving the protection of vulnerable populations during current and future epidemics of infectious diseases, both by attention to socio-historical conditions and recognition of knowledge and capacities to prevent or mitigate damage resulting from such epidemics. Although the “One Health” approach is considered crucial to address the governance challenges of zoonotic diseases, its implementation in practice remains quite limited.

It is time for international law to catch up with global reality. But global health specialists can neither focus solely on the health sector nor limit their work to scientific and technological improvement. We will all need to realize that food, trade, human rights, humanitarian assistance and the environment are critically important to improving health and reducing health inequalities.

(The author is a former senior scientist, Central Pollution Control Board)


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