COVID-19 has raised many questions and challenges with regards to public health. One of the most interesting of them has to do with the re-emerging, or rather the reappearing rise in popularity of an approach called “One Health” – a policy that seeks the common good of the society in a much wider perspective. What is this approach all about, and why should the officials and workers in the life sciences field care about it?

Here is the first chapter in the series.

The Beginning of “One Health” Approach

When referring to “health”, one usually thinks about human health. However, the most infectious diseases with the potential to switch their host to a completely different species and grow to a pandemic or an epidemic scale happen to be zoonotic – and start in the animal kingdom. It’s estimated that roughly 70% of the diseases known to us today come originally from wildlife creatures.

Although the approach has been around for a while, One Health, as we know it today, is a little over a decade old; it took a group of scientists from different disciplines to finally come together and take action, among them Dr. Roger Mahr, then the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Ron Davis, from the American Medical Association, and Dr. Jay H. Glasser from the American Public Health Association. Introducing the idea to expand interdisciplinary collaboration and communication to a multidisciplinary strategy, the One Health commission was officially established in 2009, and describes its mission to “…connect stakeholders… create networks and teams that work together across disciplines to educate about One Health and One Health issues”.

Since its establishment, the initiative dealt with important and varied topics such as the global Ebola outbreak, global warming and deforestation issues, the growing antibiotic resistance – but also addressed the developments in the pharma industry, pushed preventative policies worldwide and encouraged innovation in food tech and in sustainable farming.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had already acknowledged the significance of the approach a few years ago, saying that acting upon it worldwide will effectively “…detect, respond, and prevent outbreaks of zoonoses”. Therefore, government officials, researchers and workers from multidisciplinary sectors should work together and implement their joint reactions to the ever evolving health threats – both in the national and regional plane and the global one.

Internationally, countries reinforce the One Health approach, and the change is apparent, specifically in African countries: the new African Center for Disease Control and Prevention initiative, containing 55 member countries, started making major investments all across the continent, building advanced laboratories to examine the collaboration between the disciplines. In the U.S., Congressional bills have been presented in the effort of creating national One Health guidelines and annual reporting. Last January was also the first One Health awareness month in the States.

What does One Health include?

The One Health approach puts the term “health” under one big umbrella; it’s the realization that human, animal, plant and environmental well-being is intertwined, all sharing the same ecosystem. Therefore, One Health calls for them all to be considered as one infrastructure, and governmental policies and legislation need to change accordingly.

The WHO had specifically recognized the importance of One Health this year, urging the leaders of its country members to adopt the approach and put in the work to minimize food safety threats: according to the WHO’s estimation, 1 in 10 people falls ill after eating contaminated food every year, and as COVID-19 showed, this is no longer just a third world countries issue, but a global one.

COVID-19 and One Health Policies

It is notoriously assumed that COVID-19 came from a mutation of a genome in bats. Other studies, on the other hand, question the origins of the virus, and suggest that it was first mutated in pangolins – not bats. Either way, 2020 was One Health’s finest hour.

In order to understand the globally growing interest in the One Health initiative and policies over the last year, one should remember that COVID-19, like many other viruses, is zoonotic; meaning, it was an animal health issue that once transmitted, became a human health issue, and led to a worldwide pandemic. COVID-19 raised the awareness of issues like food contamination prevention and zoonotic diseases to a level that no other global epidemic (the 2014 Ebola outbreak, for example) managed to get to before. Finally, those are no longer just third world – and developing countries matters, but worldwide pressing issues.

Although the long-lasting effects of the Coronavirus may have yet to fully disclose themselves, the reality is forcing decision makers all over the world to plan better for the future, and fast. One Health policies are now examined globally, perhaps for the first time in some countries, and taken more seriously into account than ever before in others.

But while the awareness of One Health is growing and even considered as crucial in fighting zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 in theory, the execution is still somewhat restricted.

In the following chapters, we will discuss both the challenges in implementing the One Health approach, the potential cost of shifting policies according to it – yet the economical benefits it may bring to corporate stakeholders, and what the future holds for this initiative.