One World. One Health… and the Vector at Our Back Door

You don’t have to explain to public health laboratorians that the health of humans, animals and the environment are inextricably linked. HIV/AIDS, SARS, 2009 H1N1, West Nile Virus: laboratorians know the inner workings of these enterprising pathogens that travel (from jungle, field or suburban neighborhood, etc.) to animal hosts (chimpanzees, bats, birds, field mice, etc.) and on to us.

One World One HealthAnd they know that more of these smart bugs are coming our way. Population growth, climate change, deforestation, diminishing species diversity and changes in land use are all interfering with established patterns of interaction among people, animals and the environment. Vectors that were once in a distant forest are now at our back door. Already the majority of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans (approximately 75%) are of animal origin.

This dynamic has broad implications for public health as well as human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental science. In a world where the interface between animals, humans and the environmental is in flux, it’s perilous for health and science professionals of any stripe to operate in professional silos. To protect the health of all species, those of us in public health must join with our colleagues in veterinary science, human medicine and environmental science to adopt a holistic approach to disease surveillance, detection and control. To put it simply, we must be about one health, not several.

At the 2012 APHL Annual Meeting, “one health” will be center stage. Participants will have the opportunity to meet leaders in the One Health movement – including James Hughes, MD; Lisa Conti, DVM, MPH; and Terry McElwain, DVM, PhD – and discuss actions required to operationalize One Health objectives. Here are a few questions to get you started with these discussions. How can we:

  • Expand and improve national and global surveillance networks, particularly those that capture the animal-human interface?
  • Enhance sentinel event coordination to detect and reduce environmental health threats?
  • Build efficient global reporting and sample submission systems to support surveillance systems?
  • Communicate the benefits of investment in surveillance? (Too often disease surveillance is viewed as an old-school public health function, one that’s not sexy enough to warrant sustained investment.)
  • More effectively employ animals as sentinels for human health—and humans as sentinels for animal disease risk?

For an introduction to the “one health” concept, see the websites of the One Health Initiative and CDC’s One Health Office.

And a parting thought: When was the last time you took your state veterinarian or your colleague in environmental science to lunch? It’s a small step, but remember: One Health is collaborative; you can split the check.