What is One Health?
As the whole world is reeling from the aftereffects of the Coronavirus pandemic, it seems that there is no better time to talk about the concept of “ One Health” than the present. One Health stems from the realization that human beings are not isolated creatures. Their health depends not just on themselves but on all the organisms, micro, and macro, living around them. It's a more inclusive approach which links animal, microbial, ecosystem, and human health together. A classic example of One Health is seen in the case of Rabies. To prevent rabies, we don't just immunize humans but also animals like dogs and cats that can spread the disease. The concept of One Health has been around for a long time, however, it's recently that it gained wide popularity.
What are zoonotic diseases and why does it matter?
Infections that are transmitted from animals to humans are known as zoonotic infections. Many infections like avian influenza, Ebola, and rabies are zoonotic diseases. Even Corona is postulated to have an animal origin. It has been estimated that zoonotic infections account for 60% of all the infectious diseases in the world and nearly 75% of the newly emerged ones. Studies show that more than 850,000 zoonotic viruses are yet to be discovered. They may develop into a pandemic in the future. This further emphasizes the view that One Health approach is integral to human well being especially in the coming years.
The increasing incidence of zoonotic outbreaks can be attributed to rising urbanization. Agricultural expansion and deforestation exposed forest-dwelling brand new pathogens to the domesticated animal population. Rise in illegal wildlife trade which increased human exposure to animals also contributed to this. Exposure to these animal pathogens is much more pronounced in the developing world like our country which has greater cohabitation with animals. When this pathogen later comes into contact with the human population, it may cause infection. Since the human immune system is relatively naive to this newfound microbe, this infection may spread causing an outbreak. Increased travel between nations aids in faster transmission of such pathogens which may result in a pandemic.
Another concern of the modern world comes from growing antimicrobial resistance among livestock. Antibiotics are often used as feed supplements to enhance productivity in animal husbandry. In most countries, more than 70 % of antibiotics are consumed in animal health care. Nonjudicial and widespread use of these antimicrobials has resulted in a significant rise in pathogens resistant to commonly used antibiotics. When these drug-resistant microbes are transmitted to humans, they cause infections that are difficult to eradicate. Failure to implement serious measures to contain this growing threat will surely prove to be disastrous for humankind.
One Health is a possible solution to the growing threat of zoonotic pandemics. In One Health approach, we aim to protect the animal population from developing these diseases in the first place. This in turn protects humans from these infections thereby preventing the development of another pandemic. One Health requires the collective collaboration of experts in human, veterinary, and environmental health. One Health aims to bring all these experts under a common platform. Here, they can work together to develop a holistic approach to healthcare. It's high time we view human beings as part of a larger health system and give One Health the due importance it deserves. If not, it seems highly likely that we will be at the mercy of yet another global pandemic, one the world may not recover from.