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Do we really value ‘One Health’?

The ‘One Health’ concept argues that both human and animal health can be protected at the intersections between the two. But Ross Tiffin, veterinary industry consultant, asks is there still work to do in making the concept understood?

In a world of snappy soundbites and buzzwords, there can be few collective terms that better suit their subject than ‘One Health’.

Recent reports indicate that the European Commission is inviting views and contributions to a “One Health Action Plan” to combat antimicrobial resistance. It intends to adopt this plan later in 2017. But is this a term that’s genuinely understood or valued outside the veterinary arena? 

While there’s more awareness in rural, agricultural areas (out of necessity), policy decisions and the wider debate on the control of disease invariably takes place in the urban centres across the globe. In fact, we might reasonably question whether our thinking on global issues such as antibiotic resistance – arguably the most pressing ‘One Health’ challenge – is as informed as it needs to be.

Anyone with even a cursory interest in animal health is aware of the need for responsible use of antibiotics and it’s all too easy to condemn their sale across the counter in some parts of the world.

But we don’t always consider that many communities who are dependent on their animals don’t have a veterinary professional within easy reach. Elsewhere, in rapidly growing economies like Brazil, China and India, there are huge increases in population and sheer demand, while an infrastructure of education, oversight, regulation and enforcement simply cannot keep pace.

In recent years, campaigns by WHO and other organisations have been pitched squarely at building the understanding for responsible AB use in developing countries/economies. Progress is slow, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this – animal antibiotic use is poorly understood by the public throughout the world and needs frequent repetition and explanation.

Alex Rinkus, from HealthforAnimals said: “Over the past 100 years, places like the United States have seen their farms become more efficient and productive than ever before. Fewer farmers are needed to feed us, which means we are more disconnected from agriculture than ever before.” 

“The unfortunate, but understandable, consequence is most people don’t know why veterinarians rely on antibiotics when faced with a sick animal. Few know how quickly animal disease can spread and the devastating toll it can take on humans if the disease is zoonotic.”

“We need to do a better job of telling these stories, while showing how a One Health approach can manage resistance and preserve antibiotic’s effectiveness.”

There’s clearly a need for education here, on antimicrobial resistance and the concept of ‘One Health’ more broadly. And in the collaborative spirit of ‘One Health’, sectors need to work together to make sure these messages are getting through.

is a leading veterinary industry consultant and an expert advisor to the Pegasus Animal Health team.