By Rajib Dasgupta
The Fifth Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture was the first one after the COVID-19 pandemic. Expectedly, a key focus area of Bill Gates, Co-chair and Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was the urgency of putting health systems back on track and the reduction of health inequities. He called for strengthening the primary healthcare system and promote investment in innovations, low-cost technologies and the unfolding potential of digital public infrastructure platforms.
Significantly, in his engagement with the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India earlier in the day, he expressed interest in supporting India’s efforts on One Health Mission – a major paradigm shift in the aftermath of the pandemic. Gates focussed specifically on aspects such as open-source disease modelling, future diagnostics, environmental surveillance and animal vaccines through sustained partnerships and collaboration. These are also among the focus areas of both the union government and India’s G20 Presidency.
The vision of India’s One Health Mission
One Health is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimise the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognises the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and inter-dependent. The approach mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines and communities at varying levels of society to work together to foster well-being and tackle threats to health and ecosystems, while addressing the collective need for clean water, energy and air, safe and nutritious food, taking action on climate change, and contributing to sustainable development. It has the potential to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); a recent mid-line assessment suggests an urgent need to increase the pace and momentum on four SDG goals including Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3).
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) recommended a ‘One Health Mission’ to coordinate, support, and integrate all the existing One Health activities in the country and fill gaps where it is appropriate. This was one of the earliest priorities taken up by the current Principal Scientific Adviser. The Mission seeks to develop a “unified pandemic preparedness plan” for addressing priority;One Health diseases; (diseases of zoonotic nature, transboundary animal diseases as well as diseases of epidemic/pandemic potential) through cross-ministerial coordination as well as engage with non-governmental stakeholders including academia, private sector and international agencies for “better disease control and preparedness”. These are some of the areas reemphasised during the discussion with Bill Gates too.
A singular focus on epidemic prone zoonoses
Before the One Health Mission was announced, the Department of Biotechnology had announced a National Expert Group on One Health in May 2020 as a multi-sectoral trans-disciplinary collaborative group. Kerala formulated a One Health Scheme in the context of zoonotic diseases (animals to humans) such as scrub typhus, Kyasanur forest disease and Nipah virus disease outbreaks in the state. The Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD), Government of India supported pilots in Karnataka and Uttarakhand to develop a national One Health Framework. These pilots were geared towards early prediction, detection, and diagnosis of zoonotic diseases through increased quality, availability and utility of data evidence. The specific aims included: establishing an inter-sectoral coordination mechanism at the central and state-levels; One Health gap assessment; Integration with the digital architecture of the National Digital Livestock Mission; creating a roadmap for scaling up the OH programme at the national level and developing and implementing the OH communication strategy.
The G20 commitment
The One Health Joint Plan of Action (2022-2026) was jointly formulated by the Quadripartite Organisations – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE), and the World Health Organization (WHO) – with an aim to collaborate to drive the change and transformation required to mitigate the impact of current and future health challenges at the human–animal– plant–environment interface at global, regional and country levels. The Quadripartite supported the Indonesian G20 Presidency by developing the Lombok G20 One Health Policy Brief in 2022.
In its G20 Presidency, India is continuing and consolidating health priorities and commitments from previous presidencies. Aiming to achieve convergence in discussions across various multilateral fora engaged in health cooperation and work towards integrated action India has identified three priorities for the G20 Health Track, the first of which is Health Emergencies Prevention, Preparedness and Response (with focus on One Health & AMR). The G20 emphasis is also on microbial reservoirs in animals, domestic and wild that constitute a threat for infections crossing over, with a potential to cause epidemics from emerging or re-emerging pathogens. It also envisages collaboration towards IT-enabled comprehensive pandemic management platform to address health emergencies.
There’s a lot more to One Health
The most common interpretation of One Health is through a health security lens that foregrounds zoonotic pathogens. Some scholars see One Health as an approach for “collaboration of multiple disciplines and sectors working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment”. It is therefore interpreted as shared interests where common goals are set and the team works towards benefit the overall health of a population. One Health has thus been seen as reinforcing the vision of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognising that “good health depends on and contributes to other development goals, underpinning social justice, economic prosperity and environmental protection”. An expanded scope of One Health therefore includes neglected tropical diseases, vector-borne diseases, chronic conditions such as mental health, food safety and food security, environmental contamination, climate change and other non-traditional health threats shared by people, animals, and the environment.
Rajib Dasgupta is Professor at the Centre of Social Medicine & Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a Co-investigator of the UKRI-GCRF One Health Poultry Hub
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