June 15, 2023
As the world emerges from the greatest global emergency in recent memory, voices around the globe are asking how to better prepare for future pandemics, and more broadly, what have we learned about human health and its dependence on broader natural systems.
Interaction among humans, animals, and the environment is rapidly changing, multiplying the risk of new diseases developing and spreading. Recent outbreaks of infectious diseases, including SARS and Ebola, have originated from animals. Available evidence suggests that COVID-19 also has zoonotic origins. Hence, the need to find an approach that addresses pandemic risks holistically by looking more broadly at the complex context of human health and its linkages with the health of life on earth. One Health is an example of such a strategy.
Human activity and stressed ecosystems create opportunities for diseases to emerge and spread. Stressors including animal trade, agriculture, livestock farming, urbanization, extractive industries, climate change, environmental degradation, habitat fragmentation and human encroachment into wild areas are shifting the already delicate balance of life on our planet. The One Health approach focuses on interactions among people, animals, plants and the environment, recognizing the interdependence of human, animal and ecosystem health. This approach involves collaboration, communication and coordination across the public health, veterinary and environmental sectors to address the root causes of disease and to create sustainable solutions to promote health, prevent pandemics, and address environmental concerns.
The joint efforts of global leaders and stakeholders will be essential in effectively addressing the complex challenges posed by pandemics and safeguarding the well-being of people, animals, and the environment. Global health stakeholders are integrating the One Health approach into international agreements. For example, One Health principles are currently highlighted in several draft instruments, including the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body’s (INB) draft international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR) and the zero draft of the Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.
Recognizing the importance of a coordinated global effort, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH), constituting the Quadripartite, launched the One Health Joint Plan of Action 2022-2026. This comprehensive five-year initiative aims to foster collaboration and coordination across sectors to address health threats impacting humans, animals, plants, and the environment. It prioritizes key areas such as strengthening One Health capacities, combating zoonotic diseases, ensuring food safety, and tackling antimicrobial resistance. The plan underscores the significance of collective effort, policy guidance, and technical support at multiple levels.
The One Health Joint Plan of Action places strong emphasis on leveraging innovation in both the health/medical sector as well as environmental technologies that reduce humanity’s environmental impact. Medical diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics to support disease surveillance, rapid response, and control measures have a role to play, and so too do so-called “green technologies” to address environmental and resource-management challenges. For example, One Health can be approached through the lens of farming and forestry by promoting sustainable practices in agriculture to improve the overall health and well-being of humans, animals, and the environment. By connecting environmental and health challenges to existing green technologies, the WIPO GREEN database of Innovative Technologies and Needs, showcases advancements in sustainable farming techniques, such as methods for prevention and control of infectious diseases, and methods of hygienically processing animal excrement.
WIPO GREEN exemplifies how innovative approaches and green technologies comprise an essential part of the solution when tackling environmental challenges and climate change, and how they may have the additional benefit of addressing related issues such as human and animal health. Water is a good illustration of the interconnections between environment and health since water contamination can trigger disease outbreaks in both animals and humans. Portable water treatment systems, aerobic wastewater treatment, graywater recycling systems, and water purification systems are all powerful examples of innovation at the intersection of human health, animal health and environmental health.
To learn more, check out the Global Challenges Brief on innovative technologies in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector.
As the importance of the One Health approach becomes increasingly evident, so too does the need for holistic understanding of the intricate relationships among human, animal and environmental health. After understanding must come collective action, and quickly, if we are to meet successfully the next set of global challenges on a planet that is home to over eight billion people.
This first article serves as the introductory part of a series of articles on Intellectual Property (IP) and its intersection with the One Health approach.