- The concept of ‘One Health’ is gaining importance as most of the contagious diseases affecting humans are zoonotic (animal to man origin) in nature.
- It can be effectively implemented for reducing incidence of emerging zoonotic threats like COVID-19.
The One Health Concept
- The World Organization of Animal Health, commonly known as OIE (an abbreviation of its French title), summarizes the One Health concept.
- It says that as “human health and animal health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist”.
- Circa 400 BC, Hippocrates in his treatise On Airs, Waters and Places had urged physicians that all aspects of patients’ lives need to be considered including their environment; disease was a result of imbalance between man and environment.
- So One Health is not a new concept, though it is of late that it has been formalized in health governance systems.
- Of the contagious diseases affecting humans, more than 65% are of zoonotic or animal to man origin.
- One Health model is a globally accepted model for research on epidemiology, diagnosis and control of zoonotic diseases.
- One Health model facilitates interdisciplinary approach in disease control so as to control emerging and existing zoonotic threats.
- Increasing stress on animals due to loss of their habitat would increase scope of zoonotic diseases.
COVID-19 is so deadly
- Current outbreak of COVID-19 still could not find out the actual source of virus.
- Even though genomics of the virus has been published ambiguity still exists whether it was from bats, snakes, pangolin, etc.
Frequent Outbreaks of Zoonotic Diseases
- Not so long ago, the widespread prevalence of avian influenza in poultry, or bird flu as it commonly became known, created nationwide panic resulting in the culling of millions of poultry birds.
- It was concern for human health that prompted the extreme reaction and subsequent establishment of protocols; containment of avian influenza is managed quite effectively now.
- Similarly in 2003, SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome emanated suddenly in China and vanished soon.
- These outbreaks culminated emergency response that included extreme measures like travel bans and restrictions.
- In both cases, panic spread much faster than the virus.
- Besides drawing a response from governments, these events also brought forth the hitherto forgotten philosophy of One Health.
- This idea recognizes inter-connectivity among human health, the health of animals, and the environment.
Rise in zoonotic outbreaks:
- As human populations expand, it results in greater contact with domestic and wild animals, providing more opportunities for diseases to pass from one to the other.
- Climate change, deforestation and intensive farming further disrupt environment characteristics, while increased trade and travel result in closer and more frequent interaction, thus increasing the possibility of transmission of diseases.
Need for a robust animal health system
- Private sector presence in veterinary services is close to being nonexistent.
- Unlike a physician, a veterinarian is always on a house call on account of the logistic challenge of transporting livestock to the hospital, unless they are domestic pets.
- There could not be a stronger case for reinventing the entire animal husbandry sector to be able to reach every livestock farmer, not only for disease treatment but for prevention and surveillance to minimize the threat to human health.
- Early detection at animal source can prevent disease transmission to humans and introduction of pathogens into the food chain. So a robust animal health system is the first and a crucial step in human health.
- Developing countries like India have a much greater stake in strong One Health systems on account of agricultural systems resulting in uncomfortably close proximity of animals and humans.
- This builds a strong case for strengthening veterinary institutions and services.
- Further delay may pave way for emergence of new communicable diseases.
- The most effective and economical approach is to control zoonotic pathogens at their animal source.
- It calls not only for close collaboration at local, regional and global levels among veterinary, health and environmental governance, but also for greater investment in animal health infrastructure.
- Need of the hour is to scale up such a model across the country and to establish meaningful research collaborations across the world.
- Health, veterinary, agriculture and life science research institutions and universities can play a lead role.