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One Health for the 21st Century

May 19, 2017
In remarkable ways, the embracing of the One Health concept over the last decade has resulted in a dramatic shift in the discussions, practices, polices and partnerships that link the health of people, animals and our shared environments. In part, One Health has benefited from many innovative, collaborative efforts well underway and years in the making.  In other ways, the efforts have been focused on improving on 20th Century approaches and meeting 20th Century goals rather than boldly leading us into the 21st Century.  While the movement has had positive effects, the challenge remains to expand stakeholder engagement in One Health and think more broadly about where opportunities for impact may lie.

One Health is not only about infectious diseases; non-transmissible diseases, the health of plants and animals, the quality of our water and air, and the safety of the environment in which we live, share, and depend all fit within the rubric. But since infections shared among animals and people account for nearly two-thirds of human infectious diseases, and the majority of these are from wildlife, “low-hanging fruit” for collaborative benefits can be found at the human/animal/environment interface of infectious diseases and even pandemics.  The environment and how we interact with it is key because we know that the leading drivers of disease emergence in humans result from activities such as land use change, food production systems, and trade and travel.  This reality reveals the need to embrace a wider range of civil society and private sector partners and indicates the valuable role that the biotechnology sector can play.

We now have the ability to predict where outbreaks are most likely to happen and under which circumstances, thus we can take action to reduce risk and mitigate adverse outcomes.  As with earthquakes, we can identify areas of higher risk, and we can engineer solutions to mitigate impact.

One Heath action requires the efforts of more than just policy makers, academics and practitioners. It is dependent on engagement, and often leadership, from civil society and the private sector.  Fire safety serves as good analogy.  Fire fighters don't just put out fires, they engage the community in fire prevention.  School children are taught safety, buildings and products are designed and manufactured to be fire safe.  Companies sell smoke detectors and fire extinguishers to private citizens.  Data crunchers map out tax delinquencies as a predictor of arson.  Health in the 21st Century requires this same whole of society effort and requires the creation of opportunities for the inclusion and engagement of a wide range of actors to participate.  In essence, this is the heart of the One Health concept.


Dr. Karesh is scheduled to speak at BIO’s 2017 International Convention in San Diego on Monday, June 19, as part of BIO’s “One Health Day” programming.  This unique half-day session provides an opportunity for attendees to engage in discussions around the promises of One Health innovations to help us better heal, fuel and feed the world.