COVID-19 is not the last pandemic, and the next is likely if we do not unite to prevent it

A health worker takes a swab from a woman’s nose for analysis on COVID-19 – ANI

One health is one of the many phrases that came into common after the COVID-19 pandemic. It used to be a niche area, mostly where veterinarians paid attention to the importance of animal health and its importance in the wider health agenda, albeit with limited interest from other sectors. It is encouraging to raise public awareness of how wildlife, domestic animals and human health intertwine in this biosphere.

For any movement to gain momentum, the first step is to spread awareness. This is followed by acceptance and then the need as a society to solve the problems facing it. The problem of climate change has gone through these transitions, and we are now entering a frantic phase of “finding a solution”. It is therefore important that the field of “One Health” is now entering the very first stage of public awareness.

While awareness raising is a good result, the very definition of Unified Health requires clarity. Usually the proposed descriptions of “people, animals and the planet” give the impression of everything. When a concept applies to everything, it risks being about nothing specific. So we need clear definitions of what “one health” is.

The second question stems from the ambiguity discussed above. One Health in the current design looks like a set of statements about well-being, with which it is difficult to disagree, but it stops there. Because the concept of “world peace” is generally attractive but challenging to build specific strategies and solutions. Repeating phrases such as “multisectoral cooperation” and not moving forward on “what” and “how” this concept will be implemented on the ground may risk losing momentum.

The third and final problem is the lack of integrated thinking. If we take the example of disease surveillance, a lot of effort is being made today. Some are vertically funded global priorities such as malaria. Others are common national priorities such as the control of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle. These efforts are often limited to one compartment among wildlife, livestock, and humans, even if the disease exceeds two or all three compartments. Even interdepartmental topics, such as rabies control, are often implemented on a unit basis without the context of the major operating systems in those offices.

Instead, we need a full understanding of all three departments, their subtleties and stimuli that drive certain behaviors inward and forward. Based on such a broad understanding, we need to address specific issues, be it rabies, tuberculosis, foot and mouth disease or covid. If they are built on existing systems, be they forestry and wildlife professionals, veterinarians and technicians, and a range of medical and paramedical professionals who solve common problems, they tend to be better integrated and supported. We need programs that bring together the full range of these stakeholders in the fight against rabies and tuberculosis, covering three branches, each with its own mandates and incentives in a way that complements rather than works against each other.

Similarly, and more importantly, pandemic preparedness requires real collaboration across the spectrum to be successful. In this case, we are dealing not only with diseases such as bird flu, about which we know something and know what to look for, but also with a potentially new class of diseases about which we have little understanding. In addition to this long-term readiness system, it must be built on existing systems and linked to routine surveillance programs. If implemented as a stand-alone initiative, as the current crisis passes, it risks losing the attention and resources needed to keep the system in active readiness.

In addition to an intellectual understanding of these issues, we need real pilots with such integrated thinking as a strategy. In fact, such pilots in different contexts need a lot. This is because we do not yet know how to make it sustainable, what works on the ground and how additional or opposite incentives work in the real world. In this context, it is important to note the recently launched one-health program in Uttarakhand by the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairy (DAHD) ( The approach includes monitoring wildlife, animals and humans, developing the workforce, strengthening laboratories and networking, outbreak detection, reporting and response, biosafety in livestock systems and public awareness.

The country is counting on the successful implementation of this ambitious program, which will teach lessons about what works and what does not. In the end, we learn as much, if not more, from what doesn’t work as what ultimately manages to predict, prevent, and control diseases that affect our biosphere.

The author is a Visiting Member of the PSA in the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser of the Government of India and a Senior Visiting Fellow of the Haka Institute, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the steering committee of the project under the “Single Health” program of the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairy of the Government of India.

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