Why the One Health approach is important now more than ever

The health of humans, animals and the environment are all interconnected. When the health of one is at risk, the health of all may be at risk.   

We see it in diseases transferred between animals or insects and humans (called zoonotic and vector-borne diseases) such as rabies, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, swine flu and Ebola, among others. Or, in the growing threat from antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which occurs when bacteria and viruses mutate in ways that make the medicines (antimicrobials) used to treat infections ineffective. Or, in diseases in food-producing animals, jeopardizing global food security.

Our increasing vulnerability to such new health challenges has led to a focus on “One Health” — an integrated approach to addressing human, animal and environmental health for the benefit of all.

What is One Health?

One Health is the collaborative approach across multiple disciplines — working locally, regionally, nationally and globally — to prevent, detect and respond to health issues at the interfaces between humans, animals and the environment.

large group of people illustration

It requires collaboration among doctors, veterinarians, nurses, public health practitioners, epidemiologists, agricultural workers, ecologists, wildlife experts, and industry as well as policymakers, communities and even pet owners.

“No one person, organization or sector can address these issues alone. Identifying and responding to growing health challenges requires teamwork,” says KJ Varma, BVSc, MVSc, Ph.D., senior vice president, research and development, MSD Animal Health.

But, what has led to these increasing population health threats?

Fueling the change

Society has undergone major changes over the past century. While technology, increased mobility, industrialization, urbanization and globalization have advanced human, animal and environmental health in many ways, they’ve also made us more vulnerable to new health challenges.

For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, zoonotic diseases are very common in the U.S. and around the world. Scientists estimate that more than 60% of known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. They can be spread in a number of ways, including direct or indirect contact, vector-borne, foodborne or waterborne. In fact, foodborne pathogens cause millions of cases of sporadic illness and chronic complications, as well as large and challenging outbreaks in many countries and between countries.

In addition, increased exposure to new viruses/bacteria combined with excessive and/or inappropriate use of medicines is causing a rise in AMR, resulting in an estimated 700,000 people dying each year.

Three main factors are fueling these population health threats, increasing the probability and speed of spreading diseases. They are: