Evidence pointing to a zoonotic origin of the COVID-19 pandemic once again highlights how closely linked human, animal and environmental health are. It also emphasises the need for a holistic approach, not just in theory but also for practical implementation. The One Health approach, which acknowledges that humans, animals and the wider environment are linked and interdependent, is not new. Still, it is now even more urgent to translate it into real change and future actions that will prepare us for future pandemics and also aim to prevent them from happening in the first place. One Health in practice requires an integrated, unifying, systems-based, intersectoral approach to achieve sustainable health outcomes. Its focus should not just be anthropocentric. Broader topics such as access to clean water, food security, health and environment all have sector-specific focus areas beyond the scope of One Health approaches. Still, their interface is where there is a shared responsibility for addressing health challenges collectively.
Advancing One Health
In May 2021, the One Health High-Level Expert Panel was established to bring together diverse scientific expertise from every region of the world to advance the global One Health agenda. This panel is an excellent example of breaking silos and rethinking the way forward. It is advising four international organisations: the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization. The panel is tasked with assessing health risks arising from the human–animal–environmental interface. It will identify scientific evidence and action gaps and advise on collective actions and effective collaboration needed to prevent future pandemics. The High-Level Expert Panel is an essential step in recognising the complex multi- and interdisciplinary issues at the intersection of human, animal and environmental health. This initiative is critical in transforming One Health from a concept into concrete policy. It will provide evidence-based recommendations for global, regional, national and local action that is practical.
The panel specifically aims to document and analyse One Health approaches to identify best practice examples but also bottlenecks, consider what we know on the ground, identify gaps and advise on implementation going forward. Surveillance, including reporting, must be redefined in a One Health approach. It should not focus solely on pathogen detection in animals and humans but also include monitoring and modulation of factors that may drive spillover, including environmental aspects.
The COVID-19 pandemic also demonstrated very clearly the global interconnection of health. Therefore, it is also crucial that One Health translates into action in all world regions, including at the individual, community, sub-national, national, regional and global levels. Political commitment and allocation of resources that are distributed equally are essential for successful implementation.
A healthier ecosystem
However, it is also the responsibility of every individual to cooperate in order to tackle threats to health and ecosystems. Discussions, recommendations and activities must address this as one overarching concept, with each aspect equally important and resourced. We need to also recognise that there are substantial political, legal, ethical and societal barriers and complexities in developing a unified One Health framework that is practical on a local level. Despite this, we need to recognise that One Health is not only about pandemic preparedness and prevention but is in fact much more far-reaching. Commitment to implementing it successfully will create a healthier ecosystem for all, addressing several other concerns such as biodiversity loss, climate change, food security and social inequalities. There are clear advantages in this approach to improve health for all, as well as sustainable economic stability and resilience. ▪