One Health is a concept that recognizes that the health of people is linked to the health of animals and their shared environment. A One Health approach in preventing and controlling diseases therefore involves the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines and sectors. This approach is especially useful for managing zoonoses, diseases that are transmitted between animals and people.
According to the World Health Organization, at least 61% of all human pathogens are zoonotic and have represented 75% of all emerging pathogens during the past decade. There are more than 200 known zoonotic diseases. The health and economic cost of these diseases falls largely on poorer countries which bear 98% of the global burden of zoonoses.
Additionally, in poorer countries, zoonoses comprise 25% of the human burden of infectious diseases. Just 13 of over 200 zoonotic diseases cause 2.4 billion cases of illness and 2.2 million deaths annually (not including COVID-19).
Most zoonotic diseases are endemic in nature. Apart from emerging zoonoses like severe acute respiratory syndrome, highly pathogenic avian influenza and now COVID-19, many endemic zoonoses such as brucellosis and cysticercosis are not prioritized by national and international health systems and are therefore termed neglected zoonoses.
The impact of neglected zoonoses is most severe on poor households in low-resource settings as most people living in rural areas depend on livestock for food, transport and farm work. People living in urban slums are also affected as the rise in urban livestock agriculture brings people and animals into closer contact.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the interconnectedness of people, animals and the environment, and the need for multi-disciplinary approaches such as One Health to tackle the challenge. Preventing and controlling zoonoses in domestic and wild animal populations is a cost-effective way to ensure such diseases do not spread to human populations.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has a wealth of research expertise on zoonoses and One Health. The institute recently launched a set of seven research briefs that highlight the benefits of One Health in sustainable livestock production towards improving the health of people, animals and the environment.
The brief Preventing and controlling human diseases transmitted by animals saves millions of lives and livelihoods gives an overview of the burdens and risks of endemic zoonoses and highlights what can be done to reduce the burden of neglected zoonoses and prevent the spread of emerging zoonotic diseases.
For example, innovative community disease surveillance programs can help health experts to detect disease outbreaks rapidly and identify the specific disease hotspots for more timely and targeted interventions.
A research study on the business case for One Health shows that every one dollar invested in One Health generates five dollars’ worth of benefits. Now is the time for governments, investors and policymakers to increase investment in One Health to prevent and control neglected zoonoses and safeguard the health of millions of people and animals and their shared ecosystem.
ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute). 2021. Preventing and controlling human diseases transmitted by animals saves millions of lives and livelihoods. Livestock pathways to 2030: One Health Brief 2. Nairobi: International Livestock Research Institute.