Archived - One Health: It's What We are Called to Do

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With the designation of 2011 as World Veterinary Year and the international celebration of the establishment of formal veterinary education 250 years ago, it is natural to reflect on the contribution the profession has made to the global public good. It is also an opportune time to ruminate on how the profession responds to society's needs today and into the future.

It is perhaps serendipitous that 2011 also saw the formal declaration of the eradication of rinderpest. For most in North America, the achievement would fall far below the radar, given that the disease was never introduced here. Kudos are in order for the vigilance of veterinarians and the stewardship of the livestock producers who maintained Canada free of the disease.

As an interesting footnote, some of the first vaccines against rinderpest were developed in Canada as part of a strategy to defend against the potential deliberate deployment of the virus in warfare to disrupt the nation's food supply.

Canada never experienced the enormous impact of rinderpest on animal production and the resulting human starvation that ravaged many countries in Africa, Europe and Asia dating back to the first reports in 367 BC.

Nevertheless, when the formal declaration was made jointly by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) earlier this year, it was poignant for me to see veterinarians moved to tears having seen the devastation caused in their countries.

A momentous achievement for so many of the world's population, the eradication of rinderpest is also cause for reflection on how the veterinary profession can achieve success at a similar scale in the future. In our globalized environment, mass trade and travel mean problems in one part of the world can quickly spread to affect other areas, and the interconnections between human, animal and eco-system health are becoming increasingly evident.

The concept of “One Health” has gained significant profile in light of several recent high-profile zoonotic events, such as West Nile Virus in North America or Nipah virus in Malaysia and Hendra virus in Australia. There continues to be debate among health professionals and scientists about what the approach has to offer. However, “One Health” is not new. The principle was very much a foundation for the veterinary profession and the rationale for establishing the first veterinary school in Lyon, France 250 years ago.

In its simplest definition, One Health is about managing problems at the interface between eco-system health, animal health and human health. It is about seeing the consequences of well-intentioned interventions in one element of the continuum on the other elements and understanding the cause behind the cause of a problem.

One Health does not change what we do, but rather how we do it. Rabies management is a classic poster child for One Health, demonstrating integrated efforts to reduce the wildlife reservoir through baiting programs, companion and domestic animal vaccination programs, and reduced human exposure. A similarly integrated approach has also been used to attempt to manage leptospirosis and Lyme disease.

Other One Health strategies include integrating surveillance for highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in the migratory bird and poultry populations and circulating human influenza strains, and encouraging increased anthrax vaccination in historically endemic areas in light of recent cycles of drought and flooding.

One Health principles may also help us collectively address concerns around antimicrobial resistance and pathogen adaptation.

The outcomes of effective One Health approaches extend well beyond disease management and public health protection. Economic prosperity, environmental protection, biodiversity, food security and public confidence may be enhanced as well.

As an acronym, One Health could be defined as: “Our Necessity Encourages Humans, Eco-systems and Animals Living Together Harmoniously.”

One Health may also define us as a profession in the years to come. It is what we are positioned, qualified and called to do.

(By Dr. Brian Evans, Chief Veterinary Officer/ Chief Food Safety Officer for Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency)

This article was published in the October 2011 issue of the Canadian Veterinary Journal.

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