September 16, 2022

December 5, 2022

From Policy to Product: enabling One Health through technology

A One Health approach to health security is needed more than ever. In this blog, we explore the definition of One Health, why it is an invaluable concept for today’s interconnected world, and the practical challenges to implementing a ‘One Health’ approach. We also propose 4 initial steps for national governments to take to counter the global threats we all face.

COVID-19 took the world by surprise. A report from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) highlighted the unnerving lack of global coordination between the human, animal and environmental health sectors in responding to the virus. 

While the origins of COVID-19 remain debated, it is widely believed to have originated in bats before spreading to humans. The transmission of this disease from animal to human, and its rapid spread across international borders, demonstrate that issues of health security are often not isolated to humans or animals or ecosystems, or within national borders.

Increasingly problems of health security are “problems without passports” that pay no attention to borders between countries, or dividing lines between government departments or academic disciplines. Today, particularly in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are recognising that tackling the health of people, animals, and the environment separately does not account for the significant impacts each has on the other. 

The next pandemic will likely be caused by a disease that crosses from animals to humans. As the human population continues to increase, more people live in close proximity to animals as they move into new areas. Climate change and increased land use are continuing to change environmental conditions, creating new opportunities for disease to be transmitted. Meanwhile, the resumption and acceleration of global trade and travel means that diseases will continue to spread more quickly. A One Health approach will be vital for responding early and effectively to this threat.

A review on AMR predicted that up to 10 million deaths a year could be caused by resistant pathogens around the world by 2050 if insufficient action is taken. Meanwhile, a UN report found that 60% of diseases that currently infect humans originated in animals and 75% of emerging diseases first infected animals.

So what is One Health and how can it help? A ‘One Health’ approach builds upon ideas that have existed for centuries - that human, animal, and environmental health are interconnected and interdependent. When one is affected, others will be impacted. Due to its broad nature, One Health seeks to tackle a wide variety of health security threats. Core threats include antimicrobial resistance (AMR), zoonotic diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans, air pollution, and wastewater-borne pathogens. 

 A One Health approach seeks to foster and improve collaboration between many different stakeholders across sectors and disciplines to manage and intercept these threats before they spread to other areas. This could range from a local farmer working with government agencies tracing the movements of poultry within poultry trade networks to identify links between disease transmission and environment right through to the collaborative use of software platforms by national governments to process and analyse data from human, animal and environmental sources to monitor the emergence of antimicrobial resistance. 

Today, we are seeing a new wave of momentum as governments and international institutions work to adopt and build out a One Health approach to some of the most pressing issues of health security. Multiple government strategies state their intention of using this approach to combat threats to health security. 

In its Integrated Review, a key statement of foreign and domestic policy, the UK Government stated that taking a One Health approach would be needed to strengthen the UK’s preparedness for future pandemics. The 2021 G7 joint communqué cited One Health as one of the tools needed to strengthen existing health systems against future threats. 

In 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence Hub to improve epidemic surveillance capacity. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has engaged with One Health, launching the ZODIAC initiative in 2020 to coordinate research on zoonoses between member states.

For a One Health approach to be truly successful, effective coordination and collaboration across a wide number of industries and nations is paramount. Whilst these ideas aren’t necessarily new, their ability to drive heightened impact is now enhanced by technological innovation, building tools to collaborate and share data and best practices at scale. 

Nevertheless, major challenges still stand in the way of a One Health approach: the sheer number and variety of stakeholders, from a single cattle farmer through to international institutions, make such an approach difficult to implement, requiring governments, civil society and industry to come together around a common vision. Data collection at different levels remains fragmented or even non-existent, with little standardisation or integration across industries and government. 

Problems without borders necessitate solutions without borders, however progress is limited by ineffective collaboration and a lack of data sharing across departmental and international borders. Despite recent progress there are still too few frameworks for global collaboration that take account of nations’ existing capabilities and live projects. 

Efforts to develop cross-sectoral thinking are also likely to run up against cultures of specialisation, siloed ways of working and budgetary constraints; the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s 2018 report on AMR called for more active Government leadership and that all departmental work on AMR should be consolidated. Currently, there is no consolidated cross-departmental budget for One Health in the UK, meaning projects are constrained by limited funding and it is difficult for officials to get a full picture of live One Health projects across departments.

We face an increasing number of threats to public, animal, and environmental health. Although a ‘One Health’ approach requires engaging stakeholders across multiple sectors and disciplines, national governments must be the ones driving this effort as only they can coordinate all stakeholders effectively. We propose that, in order to counter the grave threats we face, national governments should at a minimum: 

1) Build a consolidated budget for One Health that can be accessed across departments to avoid siloed projects and funding constraints

2) Work to integrate and link datasets across departments so that relevant information can be shared and actioned on in real-time

3) Work to foster an emerging One Health startup ecosystem by enabling the development and scaling of pluri-disciplinary/cross-sectoral solutions through a challenge programme model

4) Build international forums and frameworks for effective multisectoral collaboration to better understand how existing capabilities complement one another 

If you’re interested in helping us think through how technology can enable a ‘One Health’ approach, do get in touch


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