The world as we knew it will never be the same after COVID-19. The One Health approach is perhaps one of the key beneficiaries from this troubling situation, with more countries and thought-leaders moving in the direction of finding integrative solutions in its spirit.

After examining the costs, multiple benefits and challenges this initiative has, it’s time to ask what is happening currently, what does the future hold for One Health, and what still needs to be done to make it accepted globally.

Silver-lining

2020’s global pandemic was an opportunity for One Health to present itself as more relevant than ever. Although there’s still much work to be done, some strong economies around the world have started, slowly, to implement some strategies. France, for example, launched its new High-Level Expert Council, including representatives from WHO, OIE, FAO and UNEP and with help from the German government last November. According to the announcement, the council will “collect,  distribute and publicize reliable scientific information on the links between human,  animal and environmental health in order to assist public officials to make appropriate decisions to address future crises and to inform citizens”.

Some other good news came from the Global Environment Facility last December. It granted $78.5 million to FAO, in order for the organization to lead agricultural projects in 16 developing countries impacted by COVID-19. Through these projects, the organization aims to improve the sustainability, resilience and productivity of land and water systems across 5 continents. Reportedly, this amount will benefit about half a million people directly worldwide, and subsequently, many others indirectly.

The private sector has also been busy with change. Initiatives like One Health Lessons raise awareness of the approach by creating educational podcasts for children aged 6 to 18, explaining the concept and the links between humans to animals and the environment at eye-level. Dr. Juan Lubroth, former Veterinarian Chief Officer at FAO, agrees that education needs to start early; he told the new podcast “Cracking One Health”: “…One Health can start in primary or secondary schools. You don’t have to be a graduate veterinarian to embark on a One Health master’s program. I think we should be starting earlier, and influencing earlier, about hygiene, about antimicrobial use, about food preparation”.

Remaining Issues and the Road to Actions

As previously outlined, the funds are there, the global organizations have been working on policies and future plans for years – so why is One Health still stuck in the policy phase and not moving forward altogether to the actions one?

Somehow, despite its existence for many years, One Health is still considered to be, or mostly led by veterinarians and animal health experts. Human health and the pharma industry, on the other hand, are not as willing to change the ways in which they think, manufacture or operate – mainly due to the cost such a shift will entail.

The initiative is also lacking political power. Unfortunately, and somewhat understandably, many world leaders are reacting now to the immediate threats and challenges of COVID-19, trying to put out the fire as quickly as possible with the existing tools. One Health, as more of a preventative, risk-management approach, is somewhat marginalized at the moment, and it might have to do with its lack of actual political power or the ability of its ambassadors to enforce policies.

Country leaders need to base their decisions on facts, numbers, forecasts. And when it comes to One Health, cautiousness seems to be a watchword when it comes to numbers and forecasts. Producing detailed financial reports that would shine a light on the economical benefits of implementing the policies, and their costs for and in the different sectors might be the missing piece. Those will have to be as accurate and relevant to each country as possible, backed with concrete examples of previous success stories, so industry leaders and government officials could make the informed decision to promote such policies in both the macro and micro levels.

So far, the only feasible estimation had to do with developing countries alone – it’s believed that U.S. $3 billion will be needed annually in such areas to promote the approach, create effective collaborations and build facilities that will accelerate progress. However, despite the existing systems, such a paradigm shift in developed countries might as well be higher, due to the great financial and political forces that would resist change.

Baby-Steps Toward Big Changes

Alongside big policy changes, there’s a great significance in making baby-steps and building from the ground up.

As the experts in the field have been preaching, education has to start early and reach wider parts of the population. Thankfully, COVID-19 placed topics like improving personal hygiene and food safety at the center of the stage. Those were explained and discussed both in schools and kindergartens, as well as all over mainstream media – and society has been positively reacting to it. Additionally, prestigious universities all around the world have been researching and offering programs on the topics: from the One Health laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. to the center of biosecurity and One Health in Murdoch university in Australia. One can only hope that such courses will shape the minds of future professionals in a new way – more collaborative and open to making a much-needed change.

One Health’s experts should work in both governmental and private sectors, as well as try and reach as many people themselves, and make the approach pragmatic, accessible and relevant in everyday lives. In other words, One Health should work on its marketing for the ordinary citizen, make as many people a part of the conversation, and keep that conversation going.

As proven in recent years globally, civilian protests and demands for change have led to some changes in the way governments react and divide funds to different causes like global warming or human rights. Once communities will be empowered and informed, the demand for One Health will grow, too, and new leaders and ambassadors of the approach can emerge and help the overall efforts.

All in all, despite its current pace, One Health continues making great progress both in research and determining policies, and in raising funds and awareness. It’s not an imaginary scenario that in a matter of just a few years, One Health will become the way in which the world sees health, prevents future crises, and reacts to them.