Spreading One Health Through Public Health

At EcoHealth Alliance we’re governed by a clear and direct philosophy; we call it One Health: that the health of humans, animals, and their environment are all connected. It’s that principle which guides our work from our headquarters in New York all the way to southeast Asia and everywhere in between.

Those connections are apparent in everything we do. Deforestation and increased industrial farming lead to greater contact between domestic and wild animals which creates outbreaks like the very first spillover of Nipah virus into humans in Malaysia in 1999. The capture and sale of wild animals at markets introduced SARS to humans in 2002. While we’re still not entirely sure how the most recent Ebola outbreak began in West Africa, previous outbreaks of Ebola have often been linked to the hunting, handling, or other contact with wild animals like primates and bats.

Yet scientific disciplines can be extremely regimented. Veterinarians do not treat humans; medical doctors are usually highly specialized. Epidemiologists, ecologists, zoologists, and behavioral scientists all serve unique functions and while specialization makes each person a better expert within his or her chosen field, it also means that we can miss the important connections between the health of humans, animals, and the environment. And that’s where One Health comes in.

Dr. Melinda Rostal presents at the annual APHA meeting
Dr. Melinda Rostal presents at the annual APHA meeting

EcoHealth Alliance has worked hard to operationalize One Health, and our work with public health agencies in particular has shown some exciting results. In the last year, we helped to draft a One Health policy statement, which was adopted by the American Public Health Association at its annual meeting last November.

Read More: Advancing a ‘One Health’ Approach to Promote Health at the Human-Animal-Environment Interface

“The pursuit of understanding human, veterinary, and environmental health issues separately leads to an incomplete understanding of disease risks and, therefore, missed opportunities for mitigating and adapting to these problems,” that policy statement states. “In short, systematic and sustained One Health action is warranted to promote public health.”

This is exciting as it means public health agencies will be considering the interface between human, animal, and environment health moving forward. It’s a win for the efficacy of One Health, sure, but more importantly it’s a win for us all, as we only stand to benefit from public health initiatives which benefit the health of not just people, but of animals and the environment we depend on as well.

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

One Health is also starting to gain traction on an international level, with countries beginning to implement strategies which address human and animal health together with the environment.

Read More: Investing in One Health

EcoHealth Alliance has worked with the World Bank and the World Health Organization to develop standards encouraging the ways that One Health can boost not only human health, but the economy as well. Outbreaks can be incredibly costly to governments and the global economy. For instance, the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003 cost as much as $50 billion globally. The price tag for response, recovery, and regional losses totaled $10 billion when Ebola spread from West Africa into several countries in Europe and the United States between 2014 and 2016. The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic cost as much as $55 billion.

Much of public health work is focused on emergency response and treatment, which is absolutely necessary. But using our One Health guidelines can get public health agencies thinking several steps ahead of a disease outbreak, ultimately leading to healthier populations of not just people, but animals and the environment as well.