Did you know this is One Health Week?
Observed during the first week of November, One Health Week strives to raise awareness around the world to highlight the need for comprehensive public health using the One Health approach.
“One Health is the discipline that recognizes the interconnected nature of human, animal and environmental health,” explained Dr. (Maj.) Tselane Ware, director of Public Health Command-Pacific's Veterinary Services Directorate. “By focusing on all three elements, and how they interact with each other, we are better prepared to understand the effects we have on the world around us – and vice versa.”
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s One Health Week theme is, ‘One Health in Mobile Populations: Diseases Know No Borders.’ The theme brings attention to how quickly diseases can spread across borders and around the globe, and highlights the growing need for a One Health approach to public health and preventive medicine initiatives.
Throughout the Indo-Pacific, Public Health Command-Pacific organizations are promoting this third annual observance by providing opportunities for experts to join together virtually in One Health education and awareness symposiums, while also engaging with local military communities through digital community outreach.
The overall goal is to create more awareness about the importance of the One Health concept, and address common One Health issues such as zoonotic diseases, antimicrobial resistance, food safety and food security, vector-borne diseases, and environmental contamination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the One Health approach is growing more important when it comes to public health and preventive health measures, due to increased changes in how people, animals, and the environmental interact.
The CDC states that as human populations grow and expand into new geographical areas, close contact with animals and their environments provides more opportunities for diseases to pass between animals and people.
“Over 60% of diseases affecting humans, and 75% of emerging diseases, are animal-borne,” explained Maj. Michael Kwon, director of Public Health Command-Pacific's Environmental Health Services Directorate. “As animal habitats diminish, close contact of humans with animals occur more frequently.”
This increases the need for more collaboration between human, animal, and environmental health partners to effectively fight emerging health issues, Kwon said.
“One Health takes a broader interdisciplinary approach to account for outside factors that affects human health,” he explained.
For public health officials, using an interdisciplinary approach is especially important in preventing the spread of diseases and keeping humans and animals healthy.
“Animal health is key to a healthy environment and humans,” said Ware. “Humans consume a variety of animal products, and if the animals are not healthy, they can pass disease on to humans – zoonotic and parasitic diseases, foodborne illness, and more. Unhealthy animals also can contaminate the environment, which, in turn, affects humans too.”
According to the CDC, zoonotic diseases are very common and are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, and parasites. These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illness, and can even lead to death. Animals can sometimes appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick, depending on the zoonotic disease.
“Identifying and controlling diseases in animals can help mitigate or stop the spread of disease to humans,” said Ware. “Many times zoonotic diseases are easier to stop in the animal host than it is in humans, so it is key to be able to recognize zoonotic threats before they become pandemics.”
For public health officials, the spread of zoonotic diseases is not the only health concern when it comes to human and animal interactions - antibiotic resistance is also a growing health threat.
“Using antibiotics in animals can affect the humans that interact with them, as well as the environment when it absorbs [antibiotics],” explained Ware.
A recent release from the CDC said that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time. Each year in the U.S., at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and more than 35,000 die. Fighting this threat is a public health priority that requires a collaborative global approach.
While the One Health concept embraces a collaborative global effort, animal health is only one piece of the One Health approach in disease prevention.
Both Ware and Kwon noted that detrimental environmental conditions can have significant implications on human health, and that the health of the environment is critical to the maintenance of optimal human health.
“A polluted environment can affect human health through air, water and soil contamination, which can lead to human illnesses, even severe as cancer,” said Ware.
However, when it comes to staying healthy, Ware pointed out that people need to look beyond their local environments, that environmental health is large scale consideration.
“Having a healthy environment around your own home doesn’t really work,” explained Ware. “You have to collaborate with neighbors and the whole country to ensure that the whole environment stays healthy – upstream industrial plants or factory farming can contaminate the environment miles away from you, but those effects don’t stay isolated to one area … Nothing that happens on this planet happens in a vacuum – everything we do can have effect on others.”
However, Kwon cautioned that not all environmental concerns are man-made; some are naturally occurring, which is why it is important for environmental health professionals to be involved in preventive medicine initiatives.
“When establishing the baseline for a healthy environment in the context of One Health, we must not make the mistake that Mother Earth is always pristine and nurturing,” said Kwon. “Natural surroundings can be hostile to human survival, and it is the job of environmental health professionals to implement safety measures and coping mechanisms to increase our ability to survive and thrive.”
For service members and military communities this collaborative approach to public health is especially important to keep them healthy in foreign areas around the world.
“Since the DoD projects forces into unfamiliar terrain, zoonotic and environment hazards are always on our minds, from Desert Storm exposures to burning petroleum fields, to burning of plastics during Operation Iraqi Freedom, to sand flies transmitting pathogenic leishmaniasis, to malaria transmitted by female anopheles mosquitoes,” said Kwon.
This makes public health organizations like Public Health Command-Pacific relevant, since the mission of PHC-P is to continuously protect, promote, and improve the health of the force and their families throughout the Indo-Pacific. One of the main ways PHC-P does this is by maximizing readiness using the One Health approach.
“One Health is not a new way of thinking – it is adding depth to the way you think of the world,” said Ware. “It is about understanding that everything we do – at work, at play, at home – all could have effects on the environment, animals, or other humans.”
To learn more about One Health, visit: https://phcp.health.mil/