One Health

Health risks at the human-Animal-Ecosystem interface where to go from here: Challenges, Opportunities, and Practical steps

Although the One Health approach has been described and implemented for nearly 10 years, its application to the prevention and control of zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential has gained momentum in the past three years.  The UN’s coordination team on Pandemic Influenza (UNSIC) has worked with Governments and other stakeholders as they have increased their emphasis on Health Risks that emerge at the Human-Animal Ecosystem interface as part of a longer-term strategy for preparedness.  

In the same way, discussions in the last three international ministerial conferences on animal and pandemic influenza (New Delhi in December 2007, Sharm El-Sheikh in October 2008, and Hanoi in April 2010) reflected a growing shift, with participants increasingly calling to build on this progress to address other global threats at the animal-human-ecosystems interface especially high impact infectious diseases that significantly burden animal and human health, livelihoods, and development. Multiple Stakeholders are engaged in this effort including Business, Society, State, and Science sectors.

Their approaches for doing this have reflected the experience accumulated during decades of preparing for and responding to influenza outbreaks. The investments made in preparedness can best be sustained by transferring this expertise into ongoing sectoral programs.  This will enable continued preparedness and avoid the need for wasteful re-investment: such an approach is desirable at all times but essential at a time when funds are particularly tight.  Investments are more efficiently used if preparedness covers a range of comparable threats. The UN system supports a geographically-dispersed preparedness network that focuses on pandemic and other threats.  This Towards A Safer World Network is a group of energetic and expert practitioners that can promote learning across silos, new working practices and more effective use of preparedness resources.

There is increased focus on the nexus between agriculture – food Systems – access to nutritious foods, water and energy security, nutrition and health, access to land and environmental services and climate change.  This leads to adoption of climate-smart and evergreen initiatives especially in the context of protracted crises and Pastoralism. This focus on the nexus will intensively feature in political dialogues everywhere including in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) in June this year and other political processes such as G20 and G8.

Similarly there is widening interest in foresight Studies with emphasis on long-term policy, and in Risk Prediction and Management in terms of economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological risks. The period of 2004-2005 witnessed the evolving of Hyogo Framework for Action and disaster risk reduction, which later incorporated in politics and policies of states, institutions, and businesses.

As a result of this rich history, a new narrative has emerged in recent years: it combines the long term security of our planet’s natural resources, the security of people’s access to nutritious food at all times, human security in the face of threats to their health, and the links between them that define people’s resilience in the face of stresses or shocks.  The narrative is pursued by youth groups, business leaders, government leaders, civil society at local regional and global levels.

There is a consistent focus on risks people face and their options for maximizing benefits – both now and in the future.  Thinking across sectors leads to a growing consensus that what happens at interfaces -– between people, species, systems, professions and cultures matter.  This means that work which cuts across boundaries and focuses on interfaces needs more attention despite the continuing pressure for greater emphasis and prioritization on the “core activities” of different groups. Such work is not easy to sustain within institutions but individuals committed to such working are increasingly linked in Movements: the One Health Approach and Towards a Safer World are examples of action that has been sustained through individuals working within movements.  

We are in a moment in time where the One Health working should be valued: Interfaces are risky and can be dangerous, particularly when bureaucracies are under pressure to cut their costs and exposure. Dangers flourish when mandates and accountability are rigid. Risks of Ill Health at Interfaces are well-known to all of us. The well-being of individuals, households, societies, governments, nations, and cultures depends on good care of health at interfaces. That is why we value One Health working and seek to promote it.  

Based on the history and the evolving narrative we just explained, we offer the following ten practical steps to advance the One Health movement:

  1. Start local with experience from communities and countries to guide us.
  2. Bring livestock into all politics including those on Poverty Reduction and Equity, Food Security and Safety, and on Value Chains & Risk Management.
  3. Focus on Resilience of individuals and societies in face of Health Risks at Interfaces
  4. Advocate Whole of Society Approaches
  5. Nurture Professionals Networks that Span Interfaces
  6. Ensure Strong Normative Institutional Anchor for this work.
  7. Stimulate Innovative Energy – partner with farmers and consumers, business, research, youth groups
  8. Establish and maintain an Operational Framework as a basis for Investment with strong regulatory base
  9. Seek Financing Mechanisms that support effective investments
  10. Work towards Multi-Stakeholder Guidance Process: sustain the spirit of movement and leadership from countries

Key Documents:

Key Links to One Health: