One Health for a Sustainable Future

By Nadia Rasheed

Posted February 15, 2022

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

The COVID-19 crisis has amplified attention to the interlinkages between health, the environment and human wellbeing, and is shifting how many governments, organizations and citizens around the world view biodiversity conservation. 

As we strive to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic, there is a need for a holistic and well-coordinated system for prevention, early detection, and timely management of health-related threats that impact people, animals, and our environment. 

One Health is an example of such an approach. It addresses the close links between human health, animal health, and our shared environment. The World Health Organization defines One Health as “an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.” 

By focusing on the interconnectedness between the health of the environment, animals and humans, the approach emphasizes the importance of bringing together experts from different sectors to build a comprehensive and collaborative network of surveillance and disease outbreak management. 

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that originate in animals and are transmissible to humans.  The growing destruction of ecosystems and expansion  of unsustainable human activities have increased the risk of harmful viruses and other pathogens .

Large-scale deforestation and destruction of wild habitats, unsustainable agriculture and livestock practices like excessive use of pesticides and antibiotics, and increased pollution are some of the factors increasing the threat of zoonotic diseases.

One Health provides an opportunity to re-evaluate our relationship with nature, identify harmful consumption and production patterns, and rebuild a more environmentally responsible world. About 75% of emerging diseases that are harmful to humans are of animal origin, making it imperative to devise solutions that redress the connections between biodiversity, ecosystems and economic development.

Rural communities, who depend on nature and natural resources for subsistence and livelihoods, are often the first to be impacted by zoonotic diseases. Therefore, efforts to mitigate the threat of pandemics must start with building the capacities and resilience of these communities to potential threats.

UNDP is supporting the Government of India in developing and implementing a One Health approach as a part of its ‘Green Recovery Pathway for India’ initiative. Starting with the Himalayan states of Sikkim and Uttarakhand, the programme has adopted a three-pronged strategy focusing on:

- Building capacity of officials, frontline workers and local communities on zoonotic disease prevention and management, and building synergies between key line departments for One Health. 

- Raising awareness and sensitizing local communities on zoonotic disease prevention and threats posed by illegal wildlife trade.

- Creating digital platforms and technology-based solutions for research and knowledge management. 

As world leaders gather at the COP26 Climate Conference to define our collective climate ambition and take urgent measures to stop climate change, we must look to biodiversity conservation as one of the critical areas to address. The effectiveness of climate change mitigation as well as adaptation activities will depend on how well we are able to protect our natural ecosystems and find ways to co-exist.

The One Health approach emphasizes the need to look at human health and wellbeing as a subset of environmental health, and we must take the opportunity to mainstream this approach in our policy and planning as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prevention, after all, is better than cure.

The author is the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in India. The article was originally published in The CSR Journal.