SCIF Blog: One Health Day – celebrating what binds us together
Dr Gabrielle Laing, One Health Policy Advisor, SCI Foundation
One Health Day is observed on 3rd November to recognise the inter-connectedness of people, animals and their environment. It is a day to celebrate the many health and wellbeing benefits that this connection brings.
This year’s One Health Day unfortunately takes place in the context of a global pandemic. Perhaps for all the wrong reasons, One Health concepts have found their way into mainstream news coverage as the virus causing COVID-19 is suspected to have ‘jumped’ to humans from an animal source - a so-called ‘emerging zoonotic infection’.
The transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, animals have been implicated in human disease as early as 18th century BC, with Babylonian texts warning against ‘mad dogs’ (assumed to refer to rabies) and the Egyptian advice to avoid unclean animals.
One of our key areas of focus at the SCI Foundation lies in tackling schistosomiasis, a disease in people caused by a waterborne parasite. An effective and widespread control method is through mass administration of de-worming medicines to people at risk. However, in the long-term we want to support country governments to reduce the number of people becoming infected in the first place and to do this we need to work across the different partners working in animal, human, and environmental health.
The schistosome parasite has a complicated life cycle that requires spending some of its life in a freshwater snail. Without access to the snail intermediate host, the parasite can’t develop into the life stage that infects people.
A further complication in schistosomiasis control is the emergence of hybrid species, where human schistosomes have recently been found living in cattle, making cattle a potential reservoir of disease for people. Therefore, a truly sustainable strategy for the control and elimination of schistosomiasis in people needs to consider these One Health aspects.
However, as we intervene in any ecosystem to control one disease, we need to consider all the possible knock-on impacts that may occur between people, animals and their environment elsewhere. This is where taking a One Health approach can help to reduce any potential negative consequences and reduce unexpected outcomes from an intervention.
There are many examples of where using a One Health approach in public health - to examine the whole ecosystem around an issue - would be beneficial and more effective than maintaining the traditional thinking that separates human health from animal or environment health.
Taking a One Health approach can also better reflect the reality of co-morbidities that people may be suffering. Assessing health in a holistic way can therefore identify where disease control strategies for multiple pathogens can be brought together. For example, at SCI Foundation we are especially interested in how schistosomiasis control strategies can work with those for diseases caused by pork tapeworms (Taenia spp).
One Health concepts boil down to common sense – we live in a complex reality with many interconnections between ourselves and the world around us. Therefore, it seems logical to analyse health in a way that reflects that and helps to identify the unintended consequences of actions in one sector on another.
The potential benefits of this approach were recognised formally in 2010 with a Tripartite collaboration agreement between the World Health Organization (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to ‘address health risks at the animal–human–ecosystems interface’.
For schistosomiasis as one of the WHO’s Neglected Tropical Diseases, (NTDs) the forthcoming NTD road map 2021-2030 emphasises the need for a One Health strategy in order achieve its ambitious targets for elimination, whilst also acknowledging the wider benefits that collaboration in health can bring.
You can listen to Gabrielle Laing, speak about One Health at the COR-NTD webinar on Thursday 5th November. Register here
Tune in on 18th November to listen to Wendy Harrison, SCI Foundation CEO, and Lord Trees SCI Foundation Chair of Trustees SCI Foundation talk about One Health at the WHO webinar series.