Adopt ‘One Health’ to overcome future pandemics, UNEP boss says

UNEP executive director Inger Andersen. PHOTO/Courtesy.

United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) executive director Inger Andersen has asked the global community to embrace the One Health concept to resolve current and future crises.

Addressing a World Health Assembly meeting on May 26, 2021, Ms Andersen said the diseases that cross over from animals to people are a wake-up call to embrace and respect nature instead of merely exploiting it for commercial gain.

“Illnesses that jump from animal to humans as a result of degraded natural environments and unsustainable use of animal resources drive this message home. COVID-19 is the most devastating example of this,” said the UNEP executive.

As a public health concept, One Health was first described by veterinarian and public health specialist Calvin Schwabe in 1964.

Researchers John S. Mackenzie, Moira McKinnon, and Martyn Jeggo have defined the concept in their paper One Health: From Concept to Practice.

“One Health (OH) is an approach, focusing on emergent infectious diseases, which looks at health in the context of human, animal and environment relationships,” the document reads.

Of great concern to Profs McKenzie, McKinnon and Jeggo was the disturbing fact that humans mostly react to zoonotic diseases after they occur, as opposed to tracing their animal origins and taking steps to keep themselves safe.

“The majority of emerging diseases arise from wildlife but the vast majority of funds are spent on understanding and controlling them in humans,” the report reads.

In their research paper, the scientists stress the importance of increased funding, staffing and equipping of animal surveillance.

“It is also essential that resources be made available to support research in the One Health

arena, and particularly in developing a better understanding of the human–animal ecosystems interfaces including wildlife disease surveillance,” the authors wrote.

Covid-19 is caused by the Sars-CoV2 which is a member of the virus family known as coronaviruses.

The viral disease has so far infected 169 million people across the world, resulting in over 3.5 million deaths.

It is widely thought to have originated in the animal meat market at Wuhan, although recent reports have pointed at a laboratory in China as being behind the virus outbreak.

The US is now looking into reports that three researchers sought treatment in 2019 after falling sick at a lab in Wuhan, China.

China has however vigorously denied those claims, accusing the US of politicizing the matter.

An unprecedented ongoing global campaign to contain the pandemic has seen the adoption of measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and getting vaccinated.

Ms Andersen said people should quickly understand and appreciate that environmental, animal and human health are intimately linked.

“To end the three planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution that threaten our peace and prosperity, we have to understand that human, animal and planetary health are one and the same,” Ms Andersen told the meeting.

The career economist and environmentalist said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic was sufficient evidence of the need for humans to take better care of their environment.

Echoing previous sentiments made by World Health Organization (WHO) director general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Ms Andersen said human health is only sustainable when in harmony with nature.

”As Dr. Tedros pointed out, human health does not exist in a vacuum,” she said.

Ms Andersen was candid on the timeliness of universally adopting a more ecologically friendly way of life.

Like the report authors, she was quick to point out that funding for One Health was currently insufficient.

She is further calling for an urgent renewed focus on environmental health, labelling it “the weakest link” in our quest to achieving better health for all.

“We need a One Health approach. But let us be honest. The weakest link in terms of our attention, research and investment in the animal-human-environmental continuum is environmental health.

She said the policy shift would enable the world get healthier, get better prepared and overcome the next pandemic.

“We can secure human, animal, and environment health. But only if we if we address them together and do the work together. And the mission could not be more important, because if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we cannot be caught off-guard again. There is simply too much at stake,” she said.

Drastic and far reaching change, the UNEP chief said, would be required in diet, agriculture and business to achieve an ecofriendly society.

“We must fix this. This means ending the over-exploitation of wildlife and natural resources. This means changing global dietary patterns. This means farming that is nature positive. This means finance flows that do not destroy nature,” said Ms Andersen.

She explained that increased funding for One Health research would ensure that scientists could expand their knowledge on how to efficiently prevent and contain zoonotic disease outbreaks.

“And this means investing in science, partnerships across disciplines and capacities so that we are able to prepare and prevent the next pandemic,” said the UNEP boss.

While welcoming the One Health panel to the deliberations, Ms Andersen rooted for what she termed “the breaking down of silos” between the various science-based professions.

“As we tackle complex, multidisciplinary issues at the interface of human, animal and environmental health, we need a diversity of skill sets, knowledge, experiences, geographies and solutions,” said the UNEP chief. “This panel breaks silos between disciplines and in so doing represents a fundamentally new approach to tackling the planetary challenges we face,” Ms Andersen added.

She termed the scientific community’s contribution to the cause of a healthier world as invaluable, adding that UNEP stood ready to lend a hand to those efforts.

“We count on your invaluable scientific advice in exploring the role of ecosystem health in the well-being of people and animals,” said Ms Andersen. “I also welcome the opportunity to join as a member,  the “Tripartite Alliance” of WHO, OIE and FAO and to deepen our bilateral partnership with OIE. UNEP can bring its networks, data, science and assets to the table,” she said.

Previous articleCourt halts vetting of nominee for deputy governor
Next articleSecond Chinese jab gets WHO approval


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.