One Health can transform global health, but only if civil society is on board
8 June 2021
There is huge momentum and political commitment to the One Health approach. But we need to make sure that there is true commitment behind words and that political will turns into action.
I will be attending the G7 meetings as part of the Civil Society 7 and it feels like we’re at a crucial point in history. The G7 is a critical opportunity for the holistic One Health approach, which integrates human, animal and environmental health considerations.
One Health is climbing the political agenda
More institutions and groups than ever are talking about One Health. In May alone, there has been:
- The announcement of One Health High-Level Expert Panel to advise international institutions on the development of an action plan to stop zoonotic disease
- A declaration from the G20 Global Health Summit, which says that investment in One Health is a global public good
- A call for an international pandemic treaty that includes recognition of a One Health approach at the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA), and agreement to discuss this at a special session of the WHA in November
- A resolution passed at WHA, putting One Health at the centre of strengthening the World Health Organisation’s preparedness for and response to health emergencies
- A resolution passed at the 88th World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) General Assembly on how OIE can support its members to put One Health into practice by addressing weaknesses in the animal health system
Animal health is key to our global health system
Animal health systems remain the weakest link in the global health system, with more than 75% of all new human infectious diseases coming from animals. But we have a chance to change this now, as the next pandemic could be just around the corner.
A potential new international pandemic treaty must explicitly address prevention of pandemics by stopping the spread of disease from animals to humans. Like our colleagues at the PREZODE initiative have said, prevention of zoonotic disease costs 100 times less than trying to respond once a disease has spread.
If this new instrument takes the form of a legally-binding framework convention, there will be the opportunity to bring in broad principles to stop the spread from animals to humans. Specific targets and more detailed protocols to strengthen animal health systems should also be added as a part of One Health.
Civil society must have a seat at the table
To ensure commitment to animal health, civil society needs to be at the centre of discussions about the content of a new instrument, as well as all the other processes mentioned above. We are at the grassroots of where the problems are and know the impact of ill-equipped animal health systems on communities. Without us, vital components of strengthening the global health system could be missed in discussions and decision-making.
It is also our responsibility to make sure that G7 member states understand the importance of animal health to One Health, and that they bring this to the special World Health Assembly in November, and other international assemblies, where the above processes are discussed. Member states need to inform their own positions by consulting with those working in human health, animal health and planetary health – including civil society and the people at the grassroots who feel the impact of pandemics the most.
Read the Civil Society 7's communiqué 2021
There is definitely appetite and will to implement One Health programmes, but often the lack of long-term funding is a barrier. If governments and international agencies are serious about One Health, there must be significant funding made available. The upcoming G7 meeting provides the perfect opportunity to make this happen. We need investment from G7 countries with the inputs of countries most at risk from pandemics.
Governments must remember that we need to make the current system work better by linking up human health, animal health, and the health of our planet to not just deal with an outbreak of zoonotic disease when it happens, but to prevent it at its very source. With the number of processes and discussions going on around One Health and how to fund it, we must make sure that all these processes are joined up, otherwise we risk duplication. That means, for instance, discussions about a pandemic treaty in particular must involve the OIE, FAO, UNEP and others, to make sure that it protects animals and our planet, as well as human health.
Strengthening animal health systems to prevent zoonotic disease really is a global public good. Not only will it secure global public health, it will also improve food security and poverty reduction, as well as animal health and welfare, thus working for people and planet. The time for action is now.