“[O]ver the last three decades, approximately 75% of new emerging human infectious diseases have been zoonotic
”—transmitted between humans and animals. So states the final report of the One Health Initiative Task Force, warning that “[o]ur increasing interdependence with animals and their products may well be the single most critical risk factor to our health and well-being with regard to infectious diseases.” The One Health Initiative was established by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA
) in 2006, and the task force was assembled in early 2007 to articulate its goals and vision. Released last month, the report stresses that “[b]y working together, more can be accomplished to improve health worldwide, and the veterinary medical profession has the responsibility to assume a major leadership role
in that effort.”
In our interconnected world, human, animal, and environmental health are linked in numerous and complex ways. One organization tackling these connections is the Ugandan NGO Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). Founded and directed by Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, CTPH works to bolster human and animal health in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. Zoonotic disease transmission is especially prevalent in remote areas like BINP, where people frequently live in close proximity to animals, and is exacerbated by the fact that these remote areas are often woefully underserved by government services like health care. “They’re the last people the government thinks about,” said Kalema-Zikusoka in a presentation at the Wilson Center on May 8, 2008.
The One Health Initiative demonstrates that people are starting to think seriously about the intersections between human, animal, and environmental health. “We are standing at the precipice of a health care transformation,” said Task Force Chair Lonnie King. “[D]isease prevention and health promotion in people, animals and our environment have become a critical strategic need.”
Speaking at the Wilson Center in November 2005, King expressed a desire for a program like the One Health Initiative. “We have to build infrastructures in health systems in developing countries,” he said, “not just human health, but animal health, too.” At the same event, William Karesh, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Field Veterinary Program, said, “[t]he concept we have is ‘one world, one health.’ There is the division of human health and wildlife health. But really, there’s only one health.” The idea of integrated health finally seems to be catching on.