Spreading the Word: How We Incorporate Education Into Our Mission

The mission of EcoHealth Alliance is to lead cutting-edge scientific research with the objective of preventing pandemics and promoting conservation. That research explores the ways in which the health of humans, wildlife, and the environment is connected. We call this idea ‘One Health.’

As it stands, the concept of One Health represents a novel way of thinking both about our world and the ways in which our interactions with it affect not only our health, but that of all the living things around us. And because it is a new way of thinking, it has become a part of our mission to help educate various groups on ways in which they can incorporate a One Health mindset into their daily lives.

The concept itself is simple enough: that the health of humans, wildlife, and the environment are inextricably linked. But understanding how those connections work can be a little more complicated in practice.

This is why, for three years, members of our IDEEAL team in Malaysia have been running seminars on land-use change and its potential effects on human and wildlife health. With one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is experiencing rapid land-use change. While much of it is necessary–rapid urbanization to accommodate a growing population or expanding farmland to feed said population–it can also have devastating consequences. The goal of these seminars is to help people understand the potential health impacts of land-use change and how to mitigate or prevent those effects.

EcoHealth Alliance research scientist Allison White works with local partners in Malaysia
EcoHealth Alliance research scientist Allison White works with local partners in Malaysia

“At EcoHealth Alliance we do rigorous research into how land-use change influences infectious disease,” Allison White, IDEEAL’s Community Engagement Coordinator, said. “While this research is important, it’s of equal value to share that work and other One Health knowledge with our partners in the places where we’re on the ground working. That way, our scientific advances can be translated into positive change for these communities.”

EcoHealth Alliance has instructed policymakers, researchers, government employees, private citizens, and representatives of the private sector on One Health. By showing the connections between land-use change, environmental, animal, and human health, we believe we can help invested parties to make smart decisions about land-use change.

For instance, the economic burden of dengue fever–which is spread by insect vectors like mosquitoes–in Malaysia is an estimated $127 million annually. Construction sites have been shown to be a common breeding ground for the mosquitoes which spread dengue.

Simple practices, like eliminating standing water, could do a lot to keep people healthy, as well as cutting down on the major financial burden dengue fever puts on Malaysia each year.

Allison White and Jimmy Lee conduct land-use training in Malaysia
Allison White and Jimmy Lee conduct land-use training in Malaysia

Furthermore, Malaysia sits in one of the brightest hotspot regions for emerging disease, as it is incredibly biodiverse, naturally forested, and experiencing rapid land-use change. Many of those emerging diseases–like Nipah virus, which was first observed in Malaysia in 1998–are spread to humans through bats. But bats can also play an important role in keeping humans healthy. Many bats feed on insects, controlling populations of mosquitoes which could potentially spread dengue fever. So to simply reduce bat populations through culling could potentially lead to greater rates of dengue fever in Malaysia.

In fact, EcoHealth Alliance research has found that culling bat populations doesn’t lead to a lower risk of disease spillover. This is the One Health cycle in action. It is only by maintaining the health of a complete ecosystem that we can truly protect ourselves.

We are incredibly proud of the scientific research we do here at EcoHealth Alliance. But educating those outside of the scientific community is an important piece of our work to spread One Health mindfulness globally.