One Health approach
The approach that acknowledges the interconnectedness of animals, humans, and the environment is referred to as “One Health”.
The father of modern pathology, Rudolf Virchow, emphasised in 1856 that there are essentially no dividing lines between animal and human medicine.
Studies indicate that more than two-thirds of existing and emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.
In another case, they can be transferred between animals and humans, and vice versa, when the pathogen in question originates in any life form but circumvents the species barrier.
Another category of diseases, “anthroponotic” infections, gets transferred from humans to animals.
The transboundary impact of viral outbreaks in recent years has further reinforced the need to consistently document the linkages between the environment, animals, and human health.
These include the Nipah virus, Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Avian Influenza.
This concept is ever more salient now as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
India’s Framework for “One Health”
Framework – India’s ‘One Health’ vision derives its blueprint from the agreement between the tripartite-plus alliance comprising –
the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
the World Health Organization (WHO) (and)
the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
It is a global initiative supported by UNICEF and the World Bank with the overarching goal of contributing to ‘One World, One Health’.
Initiatives – In keeping with the long-term objectives, India established a National Standing Committee on Zoonoses as far back as the 1980s. Recently, funds were sanctioned for setting up a ‘Centre for One Health’ at Nagpur.
Further, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD) has launched several schemes to mitigate the prevalence of animal diseases since 2015.
The funding pattern works along the lines of 60:40 (Centre: State), 90:10 for the Northeastern States, and 100% funding for Union Territories.
Under the National Animal Disease Control Programme, around Rs. 13,000 crores have been sanctioned for Foot and Mouth disease and Brucellosis control
In addition, DAHD will soon establish a ‘One Health’ unit within the Ministry.
Additionally, the government is working to revamp programmes that focus on –
capacity building for veterinarians
upgrading the animal health diagnostic system such as Assistance to States for Control of Animal Diseases (ASCAD)
In the revised component of assistance to States/UTs, there is an increased focus on vaccination against livestock diseases and backyard poultry.
To this end, assistance will be extended to State biological production units and disease diagnostic laboratories.
Rabies – WHO estimates that rabies (also a zoonotic disease) costs the global economy approximately $6 billion annually. Considering that 97% of human rabies cases in India are attributed to dogs, interventions for disease management in dogs are considered crucial.
DAHD has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the National Action Plan for Eliminating Dog-Mediated Rabies.
This initiative is geared towards sustained mass dog vaccinations and public education to render the country free of rabies.
Scientific observations suggest that there are more than 1.7 million viruses circulating in wildlife.
Many of them are likely to be zoonotic.
This implies that unless there is timely detection, India risks facing many more pandemics in times to come.
To achieve targets under the ‘One Health’ vision, efforts are ongoing to address challenges pertaining to –
veterinary manpower shortages
the lack of information sharing between human and animal health institutions
inadequate coordination on food safety at slaughter, distribution, and retail facilities
Existing animal health and disease surveillance systems should be consolidated.
E.g., the Information Network for Animal Productivity and Health, and the National Animal Disease Reporting System
Best-practice guidelines should be developed for informal market and slaughterhouse operations (e.g., inspections, disease prevalence assessments)
Creating mechanisms to operationalise ‘One Health’ at every stage down to the village level is another essential requirement.
Now, as India battle yet another wave of a deadly zoonotic disease (COVID-19), awareness generation, and increased investments toward meeting ‘One Health’ targets is the need of the hour.