An estimated 60% of known infectious diseases, and up to 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases, are passed to humans from animals.
12% of the world’s population depends solely on livestock for its livelihood. Several zoonotic diseases were transferred to people through poor animal health and welfare, such as:
- Swine Flu (H1N1)
- Bird Flu (H5N1)
- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
In this new context of Covid 19, governments and NGOs must make communities central to their understanding of the interlinkages between human health, animal welfare and the environment. The paradigm for this already exists in the One Health approach as detailed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO, FAO and OIE hold meetings on eradicating disease with rabies being a target issue for eradication by 2030.
Why governments need to engage communities and civil society
Agriculture is the main source of livelihoods for 2.5 billion people and is widely acknowledged as a pathway out of poverty and a key contributor to food security. According to World Bank data, 80% of the 770 million people living in extreme poverty are located in rural areas and most of them work in agriculture. This puts rural communities at the front line when zoonotic diseases emerge, to build resilience and ensure global health concerns are addressed we must ensure community-led policy development.
When communities and civil society are engaged, they bring their lived experience, expertise, policy knowledge and health responses that are informed, effective and sustainable. When communities are mobilised, they bring bottom-up political incentives to demand action and accountability for the health services to which they have the right. We must work harder so that the top down and bottom up approach to policy align, engaging community voices at the very top of policy influencing channels.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include targets on community and stakeholder engagement for the achievement of the goals. There are specific targets for:
- inclusive, participatory decision-making (target 16.7)
- multi-stakeholder partnerships (17.16)
- public, public–private and civil society partnerships (17.17).
These all recognise the centrality of community engagement for the success of the goals. Meaningful engagement with communities is essential for building strong global health systems – we leave animal health outside of this to our own risk, as we are seeing with Covid 19.
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This is especially important with One Health. For example, in our work at Brooke, we have created a South Asia brick kiln consortium where we are working with organisations such as ActionAid Nepal, the Global Fairness Initiative, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and community organisations working with marginalised castes. Through our community work to support animal welfare, we realised that animal health and welfare could not be improved without addressing systemic inequality issues such as bonded labour, child labour, air quality, etc. So we decided to work in consortia with these other organisations, using a One Health lens so that we can tackle systemic issues through partnership.
Three quarters of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas and most of them depend on livestock (IFAD). By not engaging these communities, the world is failing to meet the “leave no one behind” principle. Countries agreed during the development of the SDGs that they would work to reach the furthest behind first. People dependent on livestock for their livelihoods are being left behind.
3 ways governments can engage with communities on One Health
The next 10 years have been declared as the decade of action by the UN secretary general, but the leave no one behind principle cannot be achieved without community engagement. To address this challenge we ask that:
- Governments adhere to the leave no one behind principle by ensuring participation of rural communities in their national health planning
- Governments create a stakeholder engagement mechanism to tackle disease through research and policy dialogue between global human health sectors and international animal health and welfare professionals
- Governments strengthen animal health systems as part of strengthening global human health, addressing animal disease as the missing link to strengthening human health systems.