One Health is an interdisciplinary approach that aims to achieve optimal health outcomes by recognizing the complex linkages between human, animal, and environmental health. It is a holistic approach to protecting people, animals, and the environment, and calls for managing them collaboratively.
Why One Health Matters
The urgency of adopting a One Health approach is underscored by several significant factors.
The world is currently experiencing a growing burden of emerging infectious diseases that frequently spill over from animals to humans, known as zoonotic transmission. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 60% of human infectious diseases originate from animals. This is often a result of human encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensive livestock farming, and other types of human activity. Examples of zoonotic diseases that have triggered outbreaks in humans include COVID-19, Ebola, avian influenza, and Mpox (monkeypox). Frequently, these diseases can be highly fatal due to the lack of an efficient immune response in humans who have not traditionally been exposed to these primarily animal-borne diseases.
Beyond zoonotic diseases, the environment plays a pivotal role in the health of both animals and humans. Climate change, deforestation, pollution, and habitat destruction all pose existential threats to biodiversity and public health. Because there is a direct and intricate relationship between ecosystem stability and human well-being, the need for a comprehensive approach to address these issues is clear. For example, with warming global temperatures, disease vectors such as mosquitoes will extend beyond their usual tropical habitats, shifting the geographic burden of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile Fever. This could explain the recent identification of locally transmitted cases of malaria and dengue fever in multiple U.S. states and shows the potential impact of climate change on the resurgence of certain diseases in geographical areas where they have not been observed for decades.
Where do we go from here?
Adopting a One Health approach helps address many issues including zoonotic and infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), food safety, nutrition, pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss, and encourages multisectoral collaboration to achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While there is considerable interest from donors and policymakers, implementation of One Health plans and frameworks presents a complex challenge.
One Health is not merely a concept, but a call to action for the well-being of our planet and all of its inhabitants.
One of the primary challenges to be addressed is the siloed nature of the various sectors that need to coordinate on One Health strategies and plans. Medical professionals, veterinarians, ecologists, and policymakers often work within their specialized fields and effective communications channels and networks are not yet well-established. To overcome this challenge, it is essential to create platforms for dialogue, training, and knowledge and data sharing among professionals from these diverse fields. Working groups are a popular and effective strategy in One Health. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established and coordinated the One Health Federal Interagency Coordination Committee (OH-FICC), “which brings together public health, animal health, and environmental health officials from more than 20 federal agencies to collaborate and exchange information on One Health issues.”
Relevant government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and funding agencies across sectors should also work in coordination to support successful implementation of One Health approaches. These stakeholders must ensure they collaborate with local partners to develop policies and allocate resources that support local agendas. This will help ensure that the implementation of measures that address today’s complex health challenges are successful and sustainable, developed with local ownership as a cornerstone.
One Health is not merely a concept, but a call to action for the well-being of our planet and all of its inhabitants. Adopting One Health approaches is not optional. Failure to do so could lead to recurrent pandemics, further ecological devastation, the loss of countless species, and the spread of drug-resistant infections as the impact of climate change becomes increasingly severe. By fostering collaboration, bridging the gaps between sectors, and raising awareness of the consequences of inaction, we can pave the way for a more resilient, sustainable, and healthier future for all.